Associate Department Head Recognized for Work with Graduate Students

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By: Emily Foreman

ALEC Associate Department Head Scott Cummings, Ph.D., received the Kunze Award from the Graduate and Professional Student Council.

The award is named for George W. Kunze, Ph.D., long-time Dean of the Graduate College at Texas A&M University. The award acknowledges a faculty member, staff member, team of faculty or a Texas A&M University entity that has made outstanding contributions to the success and prosperity of the Graduate and Professional Student Council.

Cummings’ work with graduate students is more than just a part of his job description. He sees it as an opportunity to give back. Cummings claims his time as a graduate student probably had the most impact on his life.

“It is all a part of a process to help them get some place that they’re trying to go and I think that’s what I was given 20 years ago,” he said.

Cummings said he was fortunate to have been a part of a graduate program where they treated the students like colleagues.

“Most people were on a first-name basis and I’ve tried to carry that over,” he said. While working with graduate and professional students, Cummings refuses to treat them as employees because he believes they are working with the faculty, not for them.

Kevin Andrews, a doctoral student and a member of the Graduate and Professional Student Council, nominated Cummings for the honor.

“In addition to being my employer and advisor, I also consider Dr. Cummings to be my friend,” Andrews said.

Cummings’ 18 years of work with graduate and professional students has dealt mostly with those students focused on Extension. He has served on a variety of graduate committees as chair, co-chair or member, outside and within the ALEC department. His role as a committee member and the training he provides through organizational development has allowed Cummings to educate a significant portion of AgriLife Extension agency leaders.

“Those individuals who have studied under Dr. Cummings have propelled to great heights in their careers, and I expect no different for my own experience,” Andrews said.

Cummings’ work with AgriLife Extension has made his focus on graduate and professional students two-fold: A significant amount of those who work with Extension, both in the field and on campus, are seeking either masters or doctorate degrees. From his perspective these students are a win-win.

“How can we help a student but also help the overall program, the agency and what we do in Texas?” Cummings asked. Rather than focusing on an academic appointment, he said he focuses on communities.

One of the classes Cummings is most proud of instructing has come from that focus. Program Evaluation and Organizational Accountability, or ALEC 625, was developed by another faculty member and taught completely online. A few years ago Cummings expressed his desire to teach this class face-to-face. Now, the course is approximately 75 percent hands-on and most of the time is spent on a real evaluation project. During the most recent semester, they evaluated the City of Round Rock and its water conservation program.

“Again it’s a win-win,” Cummings said. “The students learn what a real-world evaluation looks like and in this case Round Rock received an evaluation at no cost.”

Throughout the semester the students learn that not everything in the book works and that situations occur that are out of their control. This past semester was the first time Cummings’ class has done an external project of that scope.

Andrews sees the value in Cummings’ approach.

“I believe that the primary influence over a graduate or professional student’s experience and success rests squarely on their relationship with the faculty member they study under,” Andrews said. “Nearly everything I have accomplished here has been due to the example and the empowerment of Dr. Cummings.”

Cummings is currently the associate department head and program leader with Texas A&M Agrilife Extension and is a professor and Extension specialist within the ALEC department.

 

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