It’s one thing to be nominated for a teaching award by a former student, but quite another to be nominated by a U.S. diplomat who considers your contributions to students “life-changing.”
That’s the case with Magdalena Krajewska, associate political science professor and winner of this year’s Charles and Hazel Corts Award for Excellence in Teaching at Wingate University.
Dr. Krajewska, who lives in Monroe, received six nominations for the award: four from students, one from Charlotte-Mecklenburg police detective and alumnus Joseph Garcia, and one from Nelly Dimov, a 2016 Wingate graduate who works for the U.S. Department of State and says Krajewska was the first to believe in her dream of a career in diplomacy.
Dimov says Krajewska’s talents go far beyond engaging lectures.
“She teaches students to think critically and openly, to engage with the world around them, and to realize that they will be the ones grappling with the many challenges in our world,” Dimov wrote in her nomination. “Through her work, students become more engaged, informed, and compassionate citizens of the world.”
She also described her professor as supporting students in countless ways outside the classroom.
“She wrote numerous letters of recommendation for my graduate school applications. She was also there when I had a death in the family during my senior year,” Dimov says. “Dr. Krajewska was one of the very first people to take me seriously when I expressed my ultimate career goal: to join the U.S. Department of State as a diplomat.”
Serving near Afghanistan when the government in Kabul fell to the Taliban, Dimov says she and her colleagues saw firsthand the humanitarian repercussions of that tragedy. Now in a different country, she’s seeing the devastation wrought by Russia’s war on Ukraine.
“These events are brutal; it is difficult to watch knowing that there are no simple solutions,” she wrote. “But this is what Dr. Krajewska prepared me — and all her students — for: a world that is unjust and complex, but one that we must engage with nevertheless. I will be forever grateful for her encouragement and lessons.”
Krajewska, who earned her bachelor’s degree from the London School of Economics and her doctorate in political science from Brandeis University, was inspired to become a professor because of her mother, who taught German at the University of Warsaw.
“I saw firsthand her many contributions and the impact she had on the lives of her students,” Krajewska says. “I was drawn to study political science because of all the political and economic changes I witnessed growing up in Poland and also living in Germany, the United Kingdom, and the United States. I like teaching politics courses because it gives me an opportunity to convey to students the benefits of learning about various countries around the world.”
Garcia, who minored in political science, says the experiences Krajewska shared from Poland shaped his ability to appreciate differing perspectives.
“Without a doubt, Dr. Krajewska was one of the most engaging and heart-warming professors I had the pleasure of knowing at Wingate,” he wrote, adding that she was such a positive influence during his days at Wingate that they stay in touch nearly a decade after he graduated.
In their nomination letters, students cited Krajewska’s skill at connecting the curriculum with current events and with their personal goals.
“She teaches in a way that helps students understand the course material along with how it relates to the real world,” Ashlyn Ollenberger wrote. “She inspires me everyday.”
Leo Freeland says Krajewska takes the time to get to know each student individually, by asking them about their interests related to the subject area.
It’s a practice that Krajewska recommends to new colleagues.
“I find it particularly helpful to start my classes each semester by taking time to learn about students’ prior experiences and their plans and dreams for Wingate and life after graduation,” she says. “We have a great student population with such a breadth of life experiences and interests.
“Once I know what towns my students call home, what places and countries they may have visited, and what they want to do after getting a Wingate degree, I can draw on this knowledge and experience in class discussions and interactions with students outside of class. I think that knowing about and truly caring about our students’ hopes and dreams can really make a difference in their lives.”
Krajewska’s Corts Award was one of two honors bestowed on undergraduate faculty members recently. Dr. Kaitlyn Niedzielski was awarded the Debra M. O’Neal Award. Graduate faculty were also honored. The Excellence in Research and Scholarship Award went to Dr. Mary Swiggum, and Dr. Jenn Wilson was named Graduate Faculty Member of the Year.