ASG's 2019 Outstanding Professor might not have been a teacher at all

Student Olivia Pannek celebrates with Catherine Bornhorst, this year's ASG Outstanding Professor.

By Nina Franco, university news and communications intern

Catherine Wolfe Bornhorst never imagined that she would receive the 2019 ASG Outstanding Professor Award.

In fact, ten years ago she never imagined being a teacher in the first place. She was going to be a doctor. She would help patients, not students.

Clarence had other ideas for Bornhorst's career path

That was until she walked into South Avondale Elementary School in Cincinnati to volunteer and met a kindergartener named Clarence.

He assured her that she would be a teacher. Already committed to the University of Akron on a volleyball scholarship for pre-medical studies, she had to gently let him down.

Whenever she went home from Akron, she found her way back to South Avondale and to persistent Clarence. So persistent was he that she transferred to Miami to receive a degree in early childhood education.

Young student opens her world

“I grew up in Cincinnati, went to Ursuline Academy and played volleyball. I wasn’t really exposed to people much unlike myself,” said Bornhorst. “And, South Avondale and that kindergarten classroom was like that first moment where I started to push back on this narrative that was being told to me. To see that a lot of the things that were told to me were inherently untrue was huge for me.”

Each year, exceptional professors are nominated by graduating seniors for having a profound impact on their education path. Miami University’s Associated Student Government presents the award.

Bornhorst graduated from Miami in 2009 and, received her master ‘s degree in educational leadership and administration from the University of New Mexico in 2014.

She eventually found her way back to Miami’s campus a year later. She is currently the coordinator of Miami’s Teacher Academy and Regional Early Childhood Cohort. She is also an adjunct faculty member in the department of teacher education.

Her former professor, Sheri Leafgren, invited her to teach one of the sections of her course. Bornhorst has been at Miami ever since, guiding students in EDT 473, a synthesis course that explores the complexities of education.

Bornhorst inspires students to share their ideas

“Catherine has the innate ability to make everyone always feel noticed, valued and significant,” said Olivia Pannek, a senior Early Childhood Education major who nominated Bornhorst. “In a class of 24, or even in a seminar of over 70, we knew that it was imperative for each individual to be present because Catherine made it clear that we all have important thoughts, ideas or stories to contribute.”

The course is tough, according to Bornhorst. It encourages students to think deeply about who they are as a person. They reflect on how they can understand race, gender, class and sexuality in terms of their students and within the communities they teach in. It is not a course for students to merely show off their academic abilities, but rather expose their vulnerabilities.

Pannek expressed that while there are so many great professors on Miami’s campus, Bornhorst was truly a role model who was willing not just to be there in the classroom, but outside of it as well.

With so many different things happening in the education world today from funding cuts to school shootings, Bornhorst emphasized a message of love, something that she saw in South Avondale and in Clarence all those years ago.

“We don’t talk about love in the classroom either, we feel like that is inappropriate, right?" Bornhorst said. “But, I don’t know how you could be in a classroom without love.”