A Lifetime Connection - Dr. Helen Stuetzel
Dr. Helen Stuetzel has always found a good reason to return to the University at Albany.
The award-winning principal of Ballston Spa Middle School received her master’s in developmental reading from the School of Education in 1979, a Certificate of Advanced Study in “reading with supervision emphasis” in 1982, and her Ph.D. in reading in 1991.
“I think of my movement through the three degrees as akin, perhaps, to moving from a wide-angle to a zoom lens,” said Steuzel, who was a classroom teacher and elementary school principal before assuming her current position in 2001. “Certainly there were practical benefits, such as positions and salary, but also a greater number of opportunities that came my way.
“With respect to learning and experiencing, the master's degree program — once I settled in! — enabled me to sample the incredibly wide range of disciplines that study this thing called literacy. I was wide-eyed! I enrolled in the CAS program because, well, I felt I had had a taste of what was out there, but there was so much more to learn.
“And then the Ph.D. was my time to take all of what had come before, focus, and have a go at putting it altogether for myself. To study something so intently was invigorating and exhausting, but, in the end, a wonderfully satisfying feeling. I left that ‘project’ with the confidence to study any topic or question in the field.”
What she did not leave completely was the UAlbany campus. In 1987, she began teaching as an adjunct faculty member in the Department of Reading. “You know that well-worn expression that the best learning comes through teaching? — that has been true for me as well,” she said. “I learned that I wasn't as clear about some topics and aspects of the field as I thought I had been. Those instances, of course, led to more independent learning.
“My long teaching experience at UAlbany has also helped me more fully appreciate the different experiences teachers and students are facing, even if they are not present in my own school. And I have also met many wonderful people!”
Stuetzel has been praised by parents for her outstanding work as teacher and administer, and that includes her distinctly personal touch. Each morning, she greets the middle school’s 1,100 students via the school’s loudspeaker and concludes with words or expressions designed to expand their vocabularies. She and the students have also established a tradition of her having a part — no matter how small or hard to find — in every school play.
“My participation reveals something I very much believe in, and that is that school is more than a building, a structure. It is about learning, yes — and I love that part. But learning is affected by how we feel, how we are connected (or not). I want the kids to know that I do pay attention to what they do, and that I do think their activities are valuable.”
The feeling must be mutual. In 2008, she received the Principal of the Year Award from the Greater Capital Region Principals’ Center. The School of Education conferred upon her its Excellence in Teaching Award in 2006, and this year the UAlbany Alumni Association named her the winner of the Bertha E. Brimmer Medal for excellence in K-12 teaching and dedication to the teaching profession.
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