Biology Professor Dr. Chris Allen

In background they are miles apart: He is a PhD experienced in cancer and gastrointestinal research, who felt a call to teach during his doctoral studies. She is an Army captain and survivor of the 2009 Ft. Hood shooting. 

But they are bound by their deep humility, innovative approach to education, and now, a shared award. 

Recently, COM biology professor Dr. Chris Allen and Medical Assistant Technology Program Director Cheryl Bordwine were named College of the Mainland's (COM) 2014 Teachers of the Year for General Education and Workforce Education, respectively.

Awards were announced at the college's commencement ceremonies held at 10 a.m and 2 p.m. Saturday, May 10.

The news came as a shock to each of them.

"I'm still on cloud nine," said Bordwine. "It really took me by surprise. It is such a great honor to receive this award because it comes from my students." 

"When they made the announcement at commencement, I was floored," Dr. Allen added. "It's an honor to be nominated by a student, and I had been nominated before. I had never been a finalist, though, and I was caught off guard. Especially because we have a lot of great high-quality faculty here.

"I've always told my students to vote," he continued, laughing. "I'd say, 'I don't care who you vote for, just vote. I never expected them to vote for me." 

But they did, and with good reason. 

Now in his sixth year at COM, Dr. Allen has built his reputation around student engagement.

"I started college in 1993 and was fortunate enough to be one of the students who had several professors from the senior faculty," Dr. Allen explained. "They had a 101 teaching style. They brought handwritten notes to class, wrote on the chalkboard and were just very personal. Yet they still went in to great depth and detail. 

"You don't see that much anymore, and I just thought, 'I want to bring that back.'

"I always start the semester by telling my students, 'I'm going to force you to talk,'" he added, laughing. "I don't believe in the passive lecture format. [Education] needs to be interactive and engaging. I like to ask questions. I feel very strongly that you have to engage students to help them master the material." 

Bordwine shares this perspective. 

"My teaching philosophy is based upon a student-learner approach," she explained. "I would define 'teaching and learning' as a communication highway. Communication is truly the key to being successful with my students.

"The process is one of understanding, listening, creating an overall environment that allows for the students to feel free to engage and learn, not just from me, as the teacher, but from other students who bring a world of knowledge to the classroom. … The main goals and objectives are to foster a learning environment that will enrich the lives of my students…"

And they have done just that.

Since joining COM in 2007, Bordwine has established the rapidly growing and successful Medical Assistant Technology Program, equipping it with a state-of-the art working lab and clinical exam room, and has inspired students by example.  

In addition to encouraging students to speak up in the classroom,  Dr. Allen has spearheaded "College Boot Camps," and won several, local, regional, national and international awards for his work as the college's Phi Theta Kappa advisor. 

But if you ask them, they haven't done anything special. 

"The leadership at COM has been so supportive with everything, which allows me to be successful with the Medical Assistant Program," Bordwine said. "[This] allows the students to be successful.

"Working at COM is exciting and extremely rewarding," she continued. "From the maintenance crew to the President of the college, everyone is supportive and encouraging. It truly is a team effort."

"I was really honored to receive this award," Dr. Allen added. "I have a lot of respect and admiration for my peers. This is a great institution with great people."