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Murnik receives Distinguished Teacher honors

BIG RAPIDS - Since she was a young girl, Mary Murnik knew she wanted to become a teacher - "I wanted to be like my teacher at the time," she laughs when asked if the thought she'd someday become a professor.

Hoping someday to teach as her grade school instructor inspired her, Murnik was probably destined from the get-go to find her way to Ferris State University - after all, Ferris ties run in the family.

"Woodbridge Ferris used to walk my great-aunt home if she stayed late working on schoolwork," Murnik said, adding she discovered two other great-aunts and a great-uncle also attended the University, then known as Ferris Institute.

In fact, it's the pioneering spirit of Ferris that Murnik finds endearing just as her relatives before her. "Ferris made a very big difference in their lives, being the children of Finish immigrants, and allowed them a lot of opportunity."

It's Ferris' small town feel and opportunity-driven atmosphere that Murnik feels are the essence of what faculty at Ferris do for students - noting that the focus is on students' success both inside and outside the classroom.

It's this passion that led Murnik's colleague Biology department head Karen Strasser to nominate her for the award.

"I was impressed with the teaching Mary does both in and out of the classroom," Strasser said. "Her classes are full of writing assignments, problems and Web activities that force her students to apply the material they are learning. She mentors students involved in campus groups, as well as independent research projects. Mary remains current in her discipline, regularly attends conferences and makes sure her courses are the best they can be."

"She is also an exceptional advisor, helping students finish their degree and gain entrance into Dental school," she added.

Murnik came to Ferris in 1980. She was honored with the Martin Luther King Social Justice Award in 2004, and in 1998, was honored with the Ferris Professional Women Woman of the Year Award and the Michigan Association of Governing Boards' Award for Teaching Excellence. Her research interests include mutagenesis, and she mentors undergraduate student research in that area. She chairs the Pre-Dental Advisory Committee and is a Dental Admission Test Constructor, Biology Content Area, for the American Dental Association.