A McCook Community College instructor who is known for his passion about his program, his students, his college, and his community, has been named winner of the Dr. Gene Budig Outstanding Faculty Award for 2020.
Art Instructor Rick Johnson, who began teaching in the fall semester of 2004, was nominated by several colleagues and fellow staff and ultimately selected by the Budig Award selection committee and submitted to the Mid-Plains Community College Cabinet. Budig who was an MCC graduate, provides a $1,000 award each year to recognize and honor outstanding educators.
"Rick Johnson epitomizes what it means to be a community college teacher. He is entirely focused on meeting the needs of his students and the community," said one nomination letter.
There is little doubt among those on campus that Johnson is one the most personable teachers and colleagues at MCC.
"He seems to know every student's name whether he has had them or not," said one nomination letter. "Rick has always made me feel welcome by always stopping to say hello and ask how things were going. With all the responsibilities that he has, his positive and caring attitude is all the more remarkable."
"Anyone that knows Rick, cannot doubt his passion for art and for McCook Community College. He bleeds MCC blue and will defend MCC, his program and his students to no end," said another nomination letter.
Johnson's Division Chair Jean Miller said Rich is a leader by example when it comes to hard work.
"He is very good at finding extra duties for his division chair, whether she likes it or not or whether or not she has the time to complete said duties," she jokes. "However, he pushes us all to go above and beyond in our duties to help make our students more successful, while continuing to strive to ensure MPCC is a first choice."
Johnson was instrumental in creating a unique degree program, the Associate of Fine Arts. This gives artists the opportunity to explore several facets of the fine arts and prepares them incredibly well for a four-year fine arts degree and beyond. His AFA candidates show their work their last semester and give artist talks. They also participate in an oral defense of their work in order to obtain their degree. This program implements rigorous elements of a graduate degree to fully prepare students for continuing their education and beginning their careers as artists.
"Rick is absolutely a dedicated employee and instructor. He loves and is extremely dedicated to MCC and his students," said another nomination letter. "He has been and continues to be a role model and a source of support for his students and fellow faculty."
Fellow colleagues also noted how hard Johnson works to recruit students to MCC and to his program. His annual high school paint-in attracts hundreds of area high school students who create large murals in three hours. He also features area high school artists' works in the Wrightstone Gallery leading up to the paint-in competition.
"This is a huge recruitment event for the college as well a great opportunity for young artists to have their work judged by a professional artist," said one nomination letter. "Rick consistently thinks outside the box in his effort to attract students to the arts."
Even when the coronavirus prevented this year's annual paint-in exhibition on campus, Johnson worked with area high school art teachers to still showcase local art. He worked with teachers to put up more than 300 works of art up on MCC's Facebook page in MCC's first-ever virtual gallery. Likewise, when COVID-19 prevented MCC from hosting the annual portfolio exhibition of graduating art students in the Wrightstone Gallery, Johnson once-again shifted focus to create a virtual gallery showcase which also linked to each graduating sophomore's home studio art page. Almost every semester Johnson will take students to area art exhibitions which gives them opportunities to view renown works by artists like Claude Monet earlier this academic year at an exhibit in Denver.
"Rick Johnson is constantly working to grow and improve as an instructor and a mentor to his students. Rick is always willing to schedule time to help his students complete their projects or help them with personal issues so that they may always be successful." said one colleague.
In addition to his teaching responsibilities, Johnson manages the Wrighstone Gallery and installs several great shows each semester. He brings in exhibits on loan from larger museums and highlights local artists as well as world-renowned artists and exhibitions.
"It is a privilege for our college and community to have access to such a well-curated fine gallery," said a fellow faculty member.
"Rick also deeply rooted in the community," said one fellow employee. "He takes his passion for art and MCC, and interjects it into McCook public schools, the local community arts associations and area art organizations, outside of McCook, as well."
It is not uncommon to see Johnson at three or four MCC sporting events each week. One colleague notes that "Rick probably owns every sport's cap, hoodie, sweatshirt and t-shirt (long and short sleeved) in every color and style, cheers them on, and is on a first-name basis with not only student-athletes but even with students who are not in any of his classes."
One MCC employee noted that Johnson's "outstanding teaching and assessment of student learning" was evident after the death last year of former MCC Instructor, Clay Grizzle.
"Rick stepped in and talked to all his students about their options to continue their coursework, offered them solutions to their concerns about their classes and thoughtfully rearranged his own schedule to accommodate the students who were lost," said yet another letter of nomination.
"Rick is quite simply one of the most successful and invaluable instructors of this educational system."
Budig Award Winners
2008 – Loretta Hauxwell
2009 – Sue Watts
2010 – (No winner)
2011 – Megan Friesen
2012 – Janet Stalder
2013 – Becky Meyers
2014 – Rob Bogardus
2015 – Jim Hall
2016 – Lorrie Mowry
2017 – Tyler Esch
2018 – Susi Curl
2019 – Clay Grizzle
2020 – Rick Johnson