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Award-winning excellence: Matt Makley

Faculty Senate Teaching Excellence Award recipient Matt Makley recounts a passion for teaching and a relatable history.

By Cory Phare

June 20, 2017

Stephen Jordan presents Matt Makley, Ph.D., with a Teaching Excellence Award at MSU Denver
Stephen Jordan presents Matt Makley, Ph.D., with a Teaching Excellence Award at MSU Denver's annual Faculty and Staff Appreciation Barbecue in May.

The Distinguished Service and Faculty Senate Teaching Excellence award winners were announced by MSU Denver President Stephen Jordan at the recent Faculty and Staff Appreciation Barbecue. Over the following weeks, we’re profiling the award recipients and what goes into the making of these remarkable Roadrunner success stories.

Here’s our conversation with Matt Makley, History faculty member and Faculty Senate president.

What is your background?
I didn’t take the traditional route into higher education. After delivering furniture and working in a restaurant for a few years, I went to a community college in Reno, Nevada, where I met a Vietnam veteran professor who really inspired my passion for history. I eventually went on for a master’s degree at Chico State [California] and my doctorate at Arizona State in Native American history and the American West.

It’s been a long road, but I feel like I relate to MSU Denver students, as I can talk about what it’s like balancing school with working two jobs, family responsibilities, and having minimal income – and sleep!

Where do you draw inspiration?
As a historian of the American West and indigenous populations, I find inspiration in the richness of people and traditions. I’m extremely drawn to authors who capture a place in writing – Cormac McCarthy, Willa Cather, Wallace Stegner and the like. Of course, I’m also inspired by my students’ stories; I love helping them to find and develop their passion.

What does this award mean to you?
It’s extremely validating to receive the Faculty Senate Teaching Award, as it comes from my peers. Also, the very act of teaching – of putting heart and soul into the work – is a reward in and of itself, so to receive recognition for it is just incredibly gratifying.

It’s nighttime, and you’re reflecting on a successful day. What are you thinking about?
There would definitely be a great class session and engaging conversation with students about a compelling subject matter. And though everyone might not agree, they all take away something meaningful. Afterward, I probably would have a cup of coffee with colleagues on campus – and maybe a committee meeting that’s really productive. It’s hard to sum it all up, but when you have conversations that make an impact, it’s a tremendous feeling.

What does it mean to you to be a Roadrunner?
Being a Roadrunner means more than just a having job – it’s taking on the identity of a growing institution, and contributing to it in a meaningful way. That comes with a commitment to our student-centered mission and the confidence that our graduates will go on to do amazing things. That reflects on all of us.

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