Part of a bigger family

Published 7:01 am Saturday, August 1, 2020

Earlier this year, Riverland Community College chemistry instructor Catherine Haslag and criminal justice instructor Richard Watkins were honored when they were named recipients of the 2020 Board of Trustees Awards for Excellence.

The honor is bestowed by the Minnesota State collective of schools located throughout the state.

The honor is given to instructors who have been nominated within their respective schools. These names are then  circulated to Minnesota State after a committee at the local level selects the educators.

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When Haslag and Watkins names were sent on to the board they were done so with a letter from RCC President Dr. Adenuga Atewologun.

“It was humbling being nominated,” said Watkins, who was nominated by one of his students. “Knowing that it was a student that nominated me, it was very humbling and gratifying.”

Likewise, the award was a humbling experience for Haslag, but not only that, it has pushed her to take her teaching to the next level.

“I was pretty shocked and floored, but one thing it has done, it has driven me to be even better,” she said. “It’s given me an opportunity to review what I have done. It got me thinking of the past and what I wanted to do in the future.”

Haslag has nearly 20 years in teaching and education and will have been at Riverland 10 years this coming January.

Watkins has been teaching criminal justice, which includes law enforcement, corrections and dispatch, at Riverland for 11 years, coming from a background that included work in the Faribault Police Department.

Once they were chosen by RCC, the two had to then put together an extensive portfolio of their past work that included, among other things, their teaching philosophies and the skills they brought to the classroom.

At the same time, they are assigned a mentor — usually a past winner — to help them through the process.

Richard Watkins and Catherine Haslag have attributed the positive work environment at Riverland as key to their successes. Eric Johnson/

The process is long, taking several months to complete.

Generally, two are chosen from Riverland, but more can be chosen at colleges that are bigger.

While the award is meaningful to both Haslag and Watkins, it’s emblematic of the Riverland system as a whole and speaks to the family nature of the faculty and administration. It’s a place where faculty can go to one another for help if need be.

“It’s a tight bond,” Watkins said. “Teaching at a college, you’re in your own little world, but you end up coming together. That’s not just lip service, it’s true.”

Even more, having a close bond with the other faculty allows for different perspectives that can be used within different areas of teaching.

That’s on full display where criminal justice, science, cosmetology and agriculture are all in one building.

“I’ve learned from Rhonda (Besel) in cosmetology where she talked about tools she used in cosmetology and I think, ‘I can use that in chemistry.’” Haslag said.

Adding further to that is the support gained by administration, which has opened as many doors as possible for its staff.

“We do have some strong support from college administration,” Watkins said. “It’s a great environment to work in.”

“They’ve always been pushing technology training for the faculty, they give us technology and making sure we know how to use it and making sure we have access to professional opportunities,” Haslag said.

However much the honor means to those who receive it, in the end, it’s about the students.

“At the end of the day, we all have the same goal and that’s to get as much of the education to the student you can,” Haslag said.

“My goal is retain our students and be able to see them graduate and also get a job,” Watkins added.