Alumni News

Biology teacher Cindy Thompson Rudolph (B.S.S.T. ’86, M.A.T. ’87) receives “Oscar of Education”

Photo of Cindy Rudolph

Cindy Rudolph leads her students in hand motions for the photosynthesis equation.

Photo courtesy of Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools.

Cindy Rudolph’s biology classes at Hopewell High School in Huntersville, N.C., are sometimes surprising. Her students might be singing the photosynthesis chant or performing the mitosis square dance as a way of learning about biology and its many complex and abstract concepts.

“If you come into my classroom, it might look more like chaos than learning. You won’t necessarily find the students sitting in neat rows being quiet,” Rudolph says.

But the End-of-Course (EOC) test results confirm that her often unconventional teaching techniques are extremely successful. Students in all her classes regularly score above state standards on their EOC exams – not only the students in her honors classes but also those in her inclusion classes that incorporate students with special needs.   

To recognize her exemplary accomplishments, the Milken Family Foundation presented Rudolph with a Milken National Educator Award last November, known in education circles as the “Oscar of Education.”  She traveled to Los Angeles in May, along with 53 other recipients nationwide, to receive her $25,000 prize and become a part of a national network of extraordinary educators.

Being named North Carolina’s only recipient of a 2009 Milken Family Foundation National Educator Award both surprised and humbled Rudolph. “I feel like I represent all the teachers who really go the extra mile for their children and are here because they love it,” she says.

Going the extra mile for students is a hallmark of Rudolph’s approach to teaching. She asserts, “Our kids are worth whatever it takes. That might mean singing it, dancing it, expressing it through athletics or doing some other creative activity. Whatever is needed, that’s what we’re going to do.”

Rudolph expects all her students to master the concepts she teaches, including her lower-level students, many of whom have learning disabilities. “All children can learn and be successful. We educators need to reach out to all children and hit their learning styles,” she says.

Her goal as a teacher is clear – to help her students become the best they can be and realize that they have an important role in the world. She strives to help them become lifelong learners and socially conscious, productive citizens. She regards teaching science as a tool she uses to develop these qualities in her students. 

The Charlotte-Mecklenburg School district has recognized Rudolph’s effectiveness and has invited her to mentor and inspire others. In 2008 the district selected her as a professional development master teacher and designated her classroom as a learning lab where new teachers can observe her teaching and classroom management techniques.

Rudolph says she was inspired by her many excellent K-12 teachers as well as her professors at the School of Education, where she pursued her undergraduate and master’s studies. “My science advisor, Dr. Barry Hounshell, had an especially strong impact on me,” she recalls. “With his casual style and sense of humor, he brought a lot of fun to science. He had a very hands-on approach and emphasized the applicable parts of science. He believed in science as a learning experience because it’s fun. My approach reflects many of those same principles.”

Rudolph is continuing to hone her teaching skills and grow professionally. She has just completed the process of applying for National Board Certification in adolescence and young adulthood science, with the goal of becoming even more effective in pursuing her passion for helping all children learn.   

In the future, she hopes to have more time to pursue a second passion – teaching new teachers. “I think we’re losing a lot of talented, young people because the classroom can be very stressful,” she says. “There’s no magic bullet but there are many small, incremental things a teacher can do. I’d like to be able to share these ideas with new teachers. I want to tell them, ‘You can adapt these ideas to fit your personality and use them in your classroom. You can make it happen!’”