Foreign language instructors, Mason Shuman and Elena Frye, receive teaching awards

Distinguished Teaching Award & Award of Distinction

Success for Mason Shuman may not always be an “A” on a student’s transcript. The real win is when students begin to understand Spanish and how learning a foreign language can broaden their worldview.

“Our world is getting smaller, and there are people out there who have totally different beliefs than our own,” said Shuman, who has served as an associate lecturer of Spanish for 12 years at Kent State University at Stark. 

“That is what education is for, always pushing you to try this and to try that,” he added. “As a teacher, it’s about pushing everything and seeing what sticks and, hopefully, students find passion in that.”

Shuman was recently awarded the 2017-18 Distinguished Teaching Award for excellence in teaching. Finalists for the award were Gregory A. Smith, Ph.D., assistant professor of biological sciences, and Leslie Heaphy, Ph.D., associate professor of history. 

Elena Frye, also a foreign language instructor, received the Award of Distinction, presented to adjunct faculty. 

The recipients and finalists were recognized during the Kent State Stark Spring 2018 Commencement Ceremony, held May 13 at Umstattd Performing Arts Hall in Canton.

Inspirational Journey

A native of Ohio, Shuman learned to speak Spanish in the classroom, and he made it his No. 1 goal to become better at teaching. So much so, he is currently working on his master’s degree in educational psychology with an objective of understanding how to teach all types of learners.

While learning Spanish came easy for Shuman, who has bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Spanish literature, he recognizes mastering a foreign language is not easy for everyone.

“My mom was a teacher,” he said. “I enjoy the process of explaining (Spanish) to someone else to the point where they can understand. There’s kind of a challenge there, like a puzzle. Is there a different way that I can explain the information so it makes sense to a student and it clicks for them?”

Success looks different for everyone. For one student, it may be ordering in Spanish at a Mexican restaurant; for an aspiring nurse, it may be communicating a brief word or phrase in Spanish, “Hola, como te sientes?” That “Hello, how are you feeling?” goes a long way in imparting comfort. 

“It shows compassion,” Shuman said. “The odds of running into someone who speaks Spanish is high, and if you are trying to speak their language it really does feel like a respectful exchange.”

One student wrote in Shuman’s nomination, “(Shuman) demonstrates all the qualities a teacher should possess. He is able to connect to all his students and get them to strive for excellence. He has a superior knowledge of the material and is able to make the material understandable to all students.”

And for Shuman, who has traveled to Mexico and three cities in Spain, he hopes to “inspire that sense of the world in students. If you have the opportunity to experience another country, another culture, it will change you as a person, for the better.”

Pictured left to right: Gregory A. Smith, Elena Frye, Thomas Norton-Smith, Denise Seachrist, Mason Shuman and Leslie Heaphy.
Pictured left to right: Gregory A. Smith, Elena Frye, Thomas Norton-Smith, Denise Seachrist, Mason Shuman and Leslie Heaphy.


Frye began teaching German part-time at the Stark Campus in 2015. From the Republic of Macedonia, she speaks seven languages, but felt a special call to German. Her grandmother is German, and growing up, Frye could not visit her unless she had a travel visa.

“I would always dream of going there and speaking German with her and her friends,” Frye said. “I love and appreciate every language. I find German is the most challenging language and I like that.”

She carries that sense of wonder into the classroom.

In Frye’s nomination, one student wrote, “While she has thorough knowledge of her field (the German language), both through advanced study and having lived in Germany, she also has an amazing understanding of the pitfalls English-speaking learners of German face.”

For Frye, teaching a foreign language is about more than sentence structure and proper grammar.

“It is the understanding of what is behind what they are saying that is so important,” she said. “I feel like you are really not just teaching language, it is promoting to students the awareness of the language, the culture and customs in the world.” 

For more information on the Distinguished Teaching Award and Award of Distinction recipients and finalists, visit

POSTED: Tuesday, May 22, 2018 - 1:21pm
UPDATED: Tuesday, May 22, 2018 - 1:25pm
Melissa Griffy Seeton