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Michael Day Receives Ellbogen Lifetime Teaching Award

April 23, 2012
Man smiling
Michael Day, a UW emeritus professor of adult education, is the winner of the 2012 John P. Ellbogen Lifetime Teaching Award. Day retired this past December.

Michael Day received a nice and unexpected retirement present.

Day, who retired this past December after nearly 30 years as a University of Wyoming professor of adult education, is the winner of the 2012 John P. Ellbogen Lifetime Teaching Award. The Ellbogen award recognizes the long, distinguished and exemplary career of one senior faculty member who has excelled as a teacher at UW.

"This came as a real surprise and a real honor," Day says. "When you're retired, you think ‘out of sight and out of mind.'"

However, Day's approach to adult education was anything but. Inspired, in part, by his early lack of interest and initiative in high school and junior college, Day wanted his classroom to be anything but teacher-centered.

"Adult education is an approach to education that stresses the relationship students have to the world around them and their understandings pertaining to that world," Day says. "It doesn't stop with formal education. It is important for an out-of-school population to continue to learn to be stimulated and engage in their communities."

By taking an interest in students' lives and learning their motivations for taking his courses, Day says it helped him gain the interest of those students who may not have initially been interested in the class.

As a doctoral student at UW, Sara Axelson, UW vice president for student affairs, recalled being inspired by Day's experience and discipline as an academic. Axelson calls Day "a national leader in the field of adult learning."

"At various points in his career, Michael contributed to undergraduate teaching in our pre-service teacher education programs as well," says College of Education Dean Kay Persichitte. "In every case, we could always count on Michael to put student learning as his highest priority. He worked toward the constant improvement in his teaching."

During his UW career, Day developed a credit course named the Mountain Folkschool, which focused on Wyoming and environmental education for adults. The course became a centerpiece of the Wyoming adult education program for several years. He also created and supported adult education enhancement courses in conjunction with the Yellowstone Institute and group forays to Africa.

"His deep connection with nature and his desire to have the participants connect to nature in their own way was clear," says Anthony Czech who, as a graduate student, took courses taught by Day. Czech is now director of technology and communications at Albany County School District 1.

"I think that time spent out of the house, out of the familiar, is important," Day says. "Time outdoors and in nature allows the unexpected to occur. It allows us to fine-tune our senses. It puts you on edge, not knowing what's around the bend."

Day also was lauded for playing a key role in major curriculum reform in 1990, primarily holding faculty to their decision in favor of such reform at a time when many faculty were hedging on that commitment before a fair evaluation of the reform actually took place. He also was one to take early advantage of technology to improve his teaching and classroom experience.

Day is no stranger to recognition, as he has received national, regional and state awards through the years. In 2003, he received the Mountain Plains Adult Education Association's Award of Excellence, one of nine state awards or honors he received for his contributions to adult education. He also was named a Kellogg Scholar on four occasions, including 1984, when he participated in the first formal exchange program between North American and United Kingdom professors of adult education in Bristol, England.

Day came to UW in 1982 as an assistant professor in the College of Education, where he taught in the area of adult education.He was elected chair of the UW Faculty Senate in 1987; head of the Adult Education Graduate Program from 1982-90; chair of UW's Division of Lifelong Learning and Instruction; and served as associate dean of the College of Education from 2002-2008. He retired from UW in December 2011.

Day received his doctorate of education from the University of Michigan; his master's degree in educational sociology from Wayne State University; and his bachelor's degree in psychology and history from the University of Maryland-College Park.

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