University of Mary Washington Associate Professor of Education Melissa Wells has received the prestigious 2024 Virginia Outstanding Faculty Award from the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia (SCHEV).
Since joining the faculty at UMW in 2017, Wells has made it her mission to foster connections among teaching, discovery, knowledge integration and service, inspiring students on campus and in their own classrooms.
She infuses her passions for equity, accessibility and inclusion into her teaching, scholarship and service within and beyond the College of Education. Her instruction includes undergraduate, graduate and professional development courses. She co-creates syllabus policies with students, crafts dynamic Canvas courses that students applaud and designs interactive learning opportunities providing first-hand experiences for future teachers. Students also appreciate the personalized feedback Wells provides on every assignment, something she honed as a K-12 educator herself.
“At every stage of my career, students like these have changed my identity as an educator. Because of them, I prioritize teaching with empathy, innovation, accessibility and authenticity,” Wells said in her personal statement. “I thrive when students bring their own stories, gifts and talents into spaces they share with me. In my teaching, I intentionally craft learning experiences that provide learners with choice, relevance and responsiveness.”
Additionally, Wells models instructional approaches her students will implement in their own future classrooms. Students in her classes have written and illustrated children’s books, which are donated to local classrooms and frequently displayed on the public StoryWalk trail downtown in collaboration with the Fredericksburg Parks, Recreation and Events Department. The StoryWalk encourages community members to read as they walk the River Heritage Trail and takes students’ work beyond the classroom.
Beyond formal coursework, Wells seeks opportunities to mentor students toward lifelong learning and professional excellence. She collaborates with students to research and present results, notably taking a group of former students to the National Council of Teachers of English conference in 2019, a first for many. In her short time on the faculty, she has disseminated her scholarship in over 15 peer-reviewed publications and over 55 peer-reviewed or invited presentations at state, national and international conferences. She serves on numerous campus committees, has been a UMW Jepson Fellow and joins in the College of Education’s efforts to strengthen K-12 education in local communities including visits with Teachers for Tomorrow and piloting a Professional Development School (PDS) model.
“Dr. Wells has leveraged her research expertise and professional development practice to simultaneously improve teaching and learning in schools, and to enhance the authenticity of her teacher preparation with students in the College of Education. In my experience, it is rare to find a teacher educator who combines top-notch scholarly expertise with the “wisdom of practice” of the K-12 Master Teacher,” UMW College of Education Dean Pete Kelly said as part of the nomination packet.
Wells has been awarded the UMW KDP chapter’s “Honor an Educator” award. In her third year at UMW, Wells became the first-ever faculty member from the College of Education to receive the University’s Mary W. Pinschmidt Award. She holds a Ph.D. in language and literacy from the University of South Carolina, and an M.A. in early childhood education and a B.A. in elementary education and music, both from Furman University.
The Outstanding Faculty Awards are the Commonwealth’s highest honor for faculty at Virginia’s public and private colleges and universities. These awards recognize superior accomplishments in teaching, research and public service. First awarded in 1987, the honor has annually recognized faculty at Virginia’s institutions of higher learning who exemplify the highest standards of teaching, scholarship and service. Nominees are selected by the institutions, reviewed by a panel of peers and chosen by a committee of leaders from the public and private sectors.