COLLEGE STATION – Angela Durko, a graduate student in the department of recreation, park and tourism sciences at the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, Texas A&M University, has been presented a Vice Chancellor’s Award in Excellence in the Graduate Student Teaching category.
Established in 1980, this awards program recognizes the commitment and outstanding contributions of faculty and staff across Texas A&M AgriLife. Durko received the award Jan. 9 at the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service Centennial Conference held in College Station.
“She not only provides students with extraordinary learning experiences in the classes she teaches, she is also active in crafting creative innovations that significantly enhance the quality of experiences of our students,” noted department head Dr. Gary Ellis in his nomination of Durko.
Durko has taught “Foundations of Tourism” as teacher-of-record for three semesters. She also served as graduate teaching assistant for that class for two semesters. The class provides an introduction to the tourism industry and to management and marketing practices in that industry.
“Given the vital importance in our program and in students’ lives, we assign only our most effective and engaging faculty members to teach that class,” Ellis wrote in his nomination. “Angela has succeeded at a level commensurate with that of our most talented tenure-track professors. Although the class enrolls over 100 students per semester, she quickly develops personal connections with her students. Her passion for the subject and for the students quickly becomes evident.”
The award nomination also cited her “two creative and noteworthy innovations” to expand learning opportunities for students.
The first of these innovations was her leadership in the Legends in the Texas Travel Industry Speaker Series, which brings managers and marketing professionals from some of Texas’ top attractions to the Texas A&M campus. These “legends” speak to classes and meet with small groups of faculty and students, who gain insights into management practices, marketing strategies and industry trends and issues.
The second of Durko’s innovations noted was her work with professors at institutions in Afghanistan and Dubai to organize multiple virtual visits to campuses and communities on other continents. This program connects Texas A&M students with those from different cultures so they may achieve deeper understanding of those cultures and might be inspired to seek actual study and/or work abroad experiences.
“Ms. Durko represents the very best of what it means to be an educator,” Ellis said. “Our current students are receiving life experiences that invite them to exciting careers in tourism, hospitality and recreation. Future students will benefit for many years from the exciting programs that Ms. Durko has developed.”
In a letter of commendation supporting Durko’s nomination, Shayna Russell, now a senior at Texas A&M wrote: “Ms. Durko’s enthusiasm, encouragement and knowledge about the field persuaded me that this is indeed the right field for me. While I feel blessed to have had excellent instructors during my time at A&M, she is undoubtedly one of A&M’s finest.”
Russell also noted that even though it was a large class, Durko knew every student’s name and would call on them at random to ask for their opinion.
“She was literally available 24/7 to answer our questions or to assist with problems whether they were for school or not,” Russell wrote. “She is still available to assist me even though I took her course semesters ago. Ms. Durko is so connected to her students, she made us feel special in the classroom, and brought the RPTS principles to life.”
In addition to her graduate student teaching at Texas A&M, Durko has served as state public information director for the U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development; risk-reduction coordinator for General Dynamics in Ansbach, Germany; co-director of the United Services Organization in Balad, Iraq; journalism instructor at Troy University of Alabama; and USO marketing director in Okinawa, Japan.
Her award and honors include a Graduate Student Council Travel Award in 2013; Gene Phillips Scholarship, Texas Travel Industry Association and Gamma Sigma Delta International Honor Society of Agriculture in 2012; and Rho Phi Lambda Honorary Recreation, Park and Leisure Fraternity in 2011. She also has received a Pat Tillman Foundation Scholarship each year from 2010-2013.