Professor receives distinguished teaching honors

Geography Professor Michael Pretes stands outside Wesleyan Hall Feb. 22. “The AAG awards are the highest honor that you can get in American geography,” he said.

Michael Pretes has devoted the last 11 years of his life to UNA as a professor of geography. His innovative teaching methods, as well as his love for his students, have led to him receiving the American Association of Geographers Distinguished Teaching Honors.

“In 2013, he was awarded with the university’s most distinguished award, the Phi Kappa Phi Eleanor Gaunder Award for excellence in undergraduate education,” according to the AAG website. “In addition, in 2015 he received the Southeast Geographers Excellence in Teaching Award.”

Senior Christian Clemmons said Pretes has been his adviser since his first semester at UNA in 2015.

“He has helped me semester after semester to stay on track and to pick the courses that were best suited for me,” he said. “He goes above and beyond to help students in and out of the classroom and to help students learn. He is very passionate with his teaching and cares about what he teaches and what his students learn from his courses. He is a very intelligent individual.”

Pretes said he was surprised when he received this award.

“I think everyone who gets an award is always a little taken aback when you actually get the letter that says you’ve received it,” he said.

The annual AAG meeting is in Boston this year. He said he will be in attendance and will receive his award there.

“The AAG awards are the highest honor that you can get in American geography,” he said. “To get the teaching honor, as I’ve told people in Alabama, it’s sort of like winning the national championship of geography teaching.”

He said not only is the award a personal accomplishment, he believes it is an accomplishment for the Department of Geography, the College of Arts and Sciences and for the university as a whole.

“I look at this as UNA achieved this because I could have never done this without my students,” he said. “It’s having students who are enthusiastic, responsive, and want to take your classes, go on these trips, want to engage and challenge you as a teacher and ask you questions to make you think about things.

“That makes you become a good teacher. I’m pleased to see that UNA is getting a little publicity for its teaching accomplishments in addition to its athletic accomplishments.”

Junior Ryan Newton said Pretes is knowledgeable in his field.

“He is very approachable when it comes to problems or issues that students may have,” Newton said. “He goes out of his way to give students more than enough information in the courses he teaches. I have taken several of his courses and have been pleased with the information I have taken away from them. I would recommend his courses to any new students.”

Recent graduate Evan Horne said Pretes is an amazing person and truly cares for his students.

“The day I stepped foot into the geography department at UNA, he was always so helpful,” Horne said. “If I ever had trouble with anything, I would always go find him because I knew he would be willing to help. Luckily, he was my adviser because it felt like he really cared how you did and how he could help rather than just getting it done and getting his students out of the way so he could go home. I consider him a friend now rather than an old professor, even though I have graduated and moved on.”

Junior Jessica Lenz said she is glad Pretes received this award.

“He is an awesome teacher,” she said. “He really knows what he is talking about because he would always show us pictures of where he has been and tell us stories. I’m proud of him. He is just amazing.”