After write-in nominations from voters on the March student government election ballot and a round of interviews, the Association of Students of the University of Nebraska honored Michael Wagner and Carlos Asarta with Outstanding Educator of the Year awards.
ASUN announced winners at its senate meeting last Wednesday.
Wagner, an assistant professor of political science, won the award for classes with 60 or fewer students.
Asarta, an assistant professor of practice of economics, won the award for teaching classes larger than 60 students.
Asarta was born in Toledo, Spain, spent most of his childhood moving around Spain and France, and ended up teaching at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
And he absolutely loves it.
"I enjoy the student body, I love the culture, it's a great place to raise a family," Asarta said. "Why would I want to go anywhere else?"
Asarta first came to UNL in 1996 to be on the men's swimming team and originally majored in pre-med. When he took a microeconomics course with Sam Allgood, an associate professor of economics at UNL, he got hooked.
"I just could not get economics out of my head," Asarta said. "It just changed me completely."
After graduation, Asarta cofounded a business, then decided to come back to UNL for graduate school. He ended up getting an assistantship.
He was a teacher's assistant for two years, and has been a full-time faculty member for two years.
In the classroom, Asarta said he tries to put himself in his students' shoes.
He always prepares for class, uses the entire class time, offers extra office hours before tests and tries to learn as many of his students' names as possible, he said.
"My favorite thing about teaching … is providing the students the tools to succeed … making sure they are well-informed about the world around them," Asarta said. "I enjoy it (teaching), and certainly the recognition helps me enjoy it more."
When the winners of the award were announced, Asarta said he was very nervous, then he was thrilled when he heard his name.
"I work hard to make sure that my students get the best education experience, and it is very rewarding to know that they appreciate what I do in and out of the classroom to facilitate their learning," Asarta said. "I was just very fortunate to have students who take the extra steps to recognize faculty for their work, and I would like to thank each and every one of them."
Wagner has only been at UNL for two years, so he wasn't expecting to win the Outstanding Educator award.
"I was really surprised," he said. "I was pleased that folks are getting something out of class."
Wagner, originally from Marshall, Minn., grew up wanting to be a TV journalist. He got his degree from UNL in journalism, and worked in Peoria, Ill., and in Omaha.
After a while, though, he started to tire of the daily grind in the journalism industry.
He decided to go back to school, and got his Ph.D. in political science from Indiana University.
After graduating, Wagner and his wife, also a professor, moved out east for work. When UNL offered her a job in the College of Education and Human Sciences, it opened up the opportunity for Wagner himself to come back to Nebraska.
"They interviewed me, and fortunately they liked what they saw and offered us both a job," he said.
Since starting at UNL, Wagner has tried to bring a distinct teaching style to his classes.
"I try to make it as fun as possible," he said.
Wagner brings in clips from news shows such as "The Today Show" and the comically-angled "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart" if they are relevant to course material. He also held an election night party at his house to predict, follow and analyze the results.
Outside of class, Wagner is the faculty adviser for Pi Sigma Alpha, the political science honors society, advises students for UCARE projects and loves working with his colleagues and with dedicated students, he said.
"I really like the students that I've worked with," Wagner said. "I like working with undergraduate and graduate students who are really serious about their education but who also get involved in the campus community."