Recognizing extraordinary educators at the University of Northern Iowa

UNI's Doug Shaw

UNI NEWS SERVICES – When Andrea Barnes packed “The Fred Factor” as reading material for her vacation, she didn’t know the impact the book would have on her life. The book, written by Mark Sandborn, centers on Fred, a mailman in Denver, Colorado, who goes above and beyond in his relatively ordinary position, treating everyone he meets with kindness and finding ways to make a difference in the lives of others.

“I read it, and I thought this is exactly what my parents raised me and my brother to [believe]. You might have an ordinary career or an ordinary life, but you need to make it extraordinary—take it one step further and live each day to the fullest and give back to the community.”

Barnes realized that she could apply this same principle in her own classroom teaching at Cypress Creek High School in Houston, Texas. 

“We started the Fred Ambassadors in my classroom where we could honor people that are just regular people that maybe people don’t notice,” she said. “You can just start changing the world a little bit and make it better. And it’s just fun. I tell my students to give back to the community, it doesn’t matter how you give back, but just little baby steps.”

She recently took the concept one step further to honor her mother, Beverly Funk Barnes. Beverly, a 1951 alumna of Iowa State Teachers College (now the University of Northern Iowa), was a role model to Andrea and her brother. “My mom is just an ordinary person but lives an extraordinary life. She is the ultimate Fred where she just is kind to everyone.”

Through a gift to the university, Andrea established the Beverly Funk Barnes Educator Excellence Award at UNI in honor of her mother. The award rewards educators at the university who continually create new value for those they work with through dedication, passion and creativity for the benefit of the University of Northern Iowa.

“I wanted to honor somebody who is going above and beyond. A professor—a faculty member is just ordinary, but somebody that takes it a little step further."

The inaugural award was given to Doug Shaw, Ph.D., professor of mathematics. A math professor by trade, Shaw hasn’t stopped reinventing himself and finding new ways to improve the lives of students he mentors as well as the broader UNI community.   

“Doug’s penchant for reinvention clearly benefits him and the students he mentors, but it is also a benefit to the broader UNI community,” said Sarah Michels, a former student of Shaw’s and former UNI employee who now works as a speech-language pathologist in Cedar Rapids. Michels was one of the people who nominated Shaw for recognition. “Doug has never been content to sit on his laurels and once he has acquired a new skill, he moves right ahead to learning a new way to apply it for the betterment of others.” 

Having developed improvisational skills and worked with the improv troupe on campus, Shaw was able to cross disciplines and apply his improv skills to teach practical skills such as boldness, adaptability, creativity and collaboration to students in the College of Business Administration’s Professional Readiness Program.

“Doug is one of the most passionate faculty members I have had the opportunity to work with at UNI. He cares about students regardless of their major,” said Jenny Connolly, associate director of advising for the College of Business Administration Professional Distinction Operations, who also nominated Shaw for the Beverly Funk Barnes Educator Excellence Award.

When the university asked for professors to teach freshmen-only sections, Shaw volunteered.

“Not every faculty member can pivot or reinvent themselves to teach first-year students. Doug did and is fantastic at it. His outreach to first-year students to help them in their transition is incredible. Students cite him as a reason they stayed at UNI,” Connolly said.

“Doug’s story isn’t one of mastering a trade and then sticking a toe over the line. It’s a story of choosing to be open to constant reinvention, allowing passion to lead to practice and skill, searching for new ways to serve others,” Michels says. 

According to Michels, Shaw’s enthusiasm for knowledge and creativity for sharing the information are intrinsic qualities that benefit the students he encounters. He creates an opening and welcoming community that allows his students to succeed. Shaw embodies “Fred the Mailman.”

Beverly Funk Barnes, a former educator herself, acknowledges educators don’t get enough praise. Her daughter agrees.

“We know the value of education and how important it is. UNI is known for producing excellent educators. That’s important for us because we know the importance educators play on each student,” said Andrea Barnes.

In the coming year, the award will be expanded to honor two faculty members and a new award will be created, the Beverly Funk Barnes Staff Excellence Award, recognizing an outstanding staff member who has 10 or more years of service with UNI. Together, these awards will help the University of Northern Iowa recognize and honor faculty and staff who embody “Fred the Mailman” for years to come. 

“Sometimes it’s hard to find the good in someone, but you give them the benefit of the doubt. That’s what a Fred is. A Fred is someone who is an ordinary person,” Barnes says. “[Doug] is an ordinary person from the University of Northern Iowa—the teachers college—and he made a difference.”

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