UNIVERSITY OF WISCONSIN River Falls
Aug. 30, 2022 -- Rhonda Petree was recently named 2022 Distinguished Teacher of the Year at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls.
Established in 1965, the award is the highest honor a faculty member can receive on campus. Awardees are nominated by current seniors and recent graduates and selected by the Distinguished Teacher Award Committee.
Petree is an instructor in the UWRF English Department and Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL) Program, a position she has held since 2019.
“She is my role model and I look up to her every day,” wrote one nominator about Petree. “She has truly impacted the last three years of my education here on campus, and I look forward to completing my education under her instruction.”
Others wrote that Petree is “the best professor I have ever had” and “the reason I have remained in my major.”
Doug Margolis, UWRF English professor and TESOL program colleague, said that Petree’s ability to connect with students is one of her greatest strengths.
“Teachers can tell a good story and see themselves as successful but, if they never connect with their students, they won’t be,” Margolis said. “First and foremost, you have to care – and Rhonda does that in spades.”
In addition to her success in the classroom, Margolis said that Petree is constantly communicating with students about jobs in the field, seminars and workshops, and other resources they might find beneficial.
“Whatever she finds, she shares, and our students greatly appreciate it,” Margolis said.
In addition, Petree’s active engagement in professional associations and organizations allows her access to knowledgeable people in the field that she can connect to students. In short, Margolis said, “She uses her connections to get people connected.”
“I am so proud of this award,” said Petree. “It is an absolute career highlight and means that a lot of what I do is right.”
She said that she works hard to make students comfortable enough to take risks and be open to feedback and evaluation.
“I try to take them from wherever they are and move them to a newer, deeper level,” Petree said.
Petree was hired by UWRF in 2011 to develop the English Language Transition Program to provide academic English language classes to international students who had not yet met the university’s English language proficiency requirements.
“I’ve never seen such a well-run program,” said Margolis. “Her organizational skills created a real community and an effective team. People were happy to participate because of the atmosphere she created.”
During the 2018-19 academic year, Petree received a Fulbright U.S. Scholar award and was a visiting lecturer in Narva, Estonia.
“When Rhonda returned from Estonia, she began to infuse that experience into her classrooms,” said Mialisa Moline, professor and department chair of English, TESOL, and Modern Languages. “It changed her outlook on teaching and her understanding of the importance of her work. That passion, combined with professionalism that she applied to her teaching, was quite a beautiful thing to behold.”
Petree grew up in Spearfish, S.D., and Goodhue, Minn., and received her bachelor’s degree in history and political science from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. After graduation, she was among some of the first groups of Peace Corps volunteers in Kazakhstan, a former Soviet republic. She received her master’s degree in English as a second language from the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities in 2010.
In addition to presenting regularly at professional conferences around the state and nation, Petree has also led workshops and training sessions in Singapore, Canada, Serbia, Lithuania, Slovenia, England, and Ireland.
Petree will be honored August 31 during a reception on campus. A plaque of her likeness will be added to the wall of Distinguished Teachers in the Wyman Education Building. As the recipient of the Distinguished Teacher Award, she will deliver an address at fall commencement in December.