Todd Pagano, the 2012 U.S. Professor of the Year for Master’s Universities and Colleges, credits his success from a blending of two elements: his joy of teaching deaf and hard-of-hearing students and his passion for chemistry.
“There’s a passion for both the chemistry and seeing the students succeed in class, an internship or a permanent job,” he says. “The acquired knowledge could make a difference in their lives if it helps them obtain a job.”
Pagano, an associate professor and director of laboratory science technology at the National Technical Institute for the Deaf, was named 2012 Professor of the Year by the Council for Advancement and Support of Education and the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. The award, the first ever given to an RIT faculty member, was presented at a ceremony Nov. 15 in Washington, D.C.
“It’s humbling,” Pagano says. “It’s wonderful that we can provide the technical knowledge that students need to find jobs and to use on their jobs. I’m fortunate to work at a truly unique place, where deaf and hard-of-hearing students are taught applied knowledge, the roots of their trade, self-advocacy and lifelong learning skills.”
Pagano, a Victor, N.Y., native, may have been groomed for teaching from childhood. His mother taught math and his father was a high school principal.
After earning his college degrees outside of New York state, Pagano saw he had the credentials for a job opening at NTID. But the job required him to learn sign language.
“I took that on as a challenge,” he says. “I wanted to teach chemistry on a college level and come home to where my family was in Rochester. Here, I not only got to teach chemistry, but to help build the laboratory science technology program and become its first director.”
To say Pagano engages his students is an understatement. It’s not uncommon for him to jump on a table and dance to illustrate the jitteriness of an electron. In a recent class, he had two students lock arms and walk around the classroom to illustrate a chemical bond, while tossing Koosh balls representing energy absorbed and expended.
“As a teacher, you do everything in your power to help convey concepts to help students understand,” he says. “Seeing that look of understanding on their faces because of the way you were able to convey an idea brings a great feeling of satisfaction.”
Students graduating from NTID’s laboratory science technology program have a nearly 100 percent employment rate in jobs all across the country.
U.S. Professor of the Year was just one of many accolades Pagano has recently received. Last month, he received a Forty Under 40 Award from the Rochester Business Journal. He also received the American Chemical Society Award for Encouraging Disadvantaged Students into Careers in the Chemical Sciences. That award, sponsored by The Camille and Henry Dreyfus Foundation, came with $15,000 for NTID to help further promote students interested in science.
Kathyrn Johnson, a second-year laboratory science major from Chester Springs, Pa., says Pagano always entertains his students while teaching important lessons.
“He enjoys teaching and shows a real interest in students, which inspires me,” she says. “He thinks of creative demonstrations to make the students comprehend the concepts he talks about. He doesn’t just teach and move on without ensuring the students know what he has just taught. Honestly, I wish I could have him as my professor for all of my future science courses.”