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Professors Mock and Thomas receive Montana Ambassador award

UMW News Bureau

steve rob nepal TNUniversity of Montana Western professors Steve Mock and Rob Thomas will be honored as the Mike Malone Educators of the Year at the 2013 Montana Ambassador Annual Awards and Conference on Thursday, Feb. 21.

Gov. Steve Bullock will present the awards.

Mock and Thomas both teach within the University of Montana Western Department of Environmental Science. Mock has taught chemistry at UMW since 1991. Thomas has taught geology at Montana Western since 1993.

The two professors were chosen for their leadership roles in pioneering Montana Western’s unique block scheduling program, Experience One. Montana Western became the nation’s only four-year university to fully implement a block schedule in 2005. Under this innovative program, students focus on a single class at a time for 18 days before moving on to the next course.

The award marks the second time Thomas has been honored for his role in implementing and teaching under Experience One; in 2009, Thomas was honored as Montana’s first-ever Carnegie Foundation U.S. Professor of the Year.

Mock and Thomas recently returned from Nepal where they were working with the Khumbu Climbing Center (KCC), a non-profit organization working with Nepalese climbers and high-altitude workers to increase responsible climbing practices within Nepal’s economically vital tourism and guiding industry. The recent trip was Mock’s fifth visit to Nepal and the professors’ second visit together. Mock is an avid rock and mountain climber. He was a friend and climbing partner of Alex Lowe, who was the inspiration behind founding the KCC.

In addition to being an instructor for ice and rock climbing, Mock has served as one of two co-directors of the KCC program. This year marked the third consecutive year in the role. Mock reached out to KCC in 2011 to begin implementing more environmental interpretation in the program, and Thomas subsequently developed and taught a geology component within the KCC program in 2011. During the most recent trip, this component was modified and expanded to mountain environmental education addressing topics such as map reading, compass use and other essential skills for mountain guides.

Experience One emphasizes experiential learning, and whether teaching in Nepal or Dillon, Mont., Mock and Thomas are committed to educating students through intensive, focused, hands-on learning.

Mock and Thomas were nominated by Rick Edwards, who is a Montana Ambassadors Board of Directors member as well as the Butte Ambassadors chapter vice president. Edwards said Mock and Thomas were clearly the exemplary candidates for the award.

“For the educator award, we try to select someone who has done something to advance higher education and something that perhaps is creative,” Edwards explained. “There have been so many positive things that have come as a result of the block program — increased enrollment and visibility for the college — and I’ve been aware of the good things these two gentlemen have done down there. It just made sense to give them consideration. They join a very well respected group of previous winners.”