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Mt. Pleasant Area teachers honored by St. Vincent College

| Wednesday, Jan. 1, 2014, 9:00 p.m.

Mt. Pleasant Area biology instructor Colleen Minerd admits she encountered few teachers who stood out on her educational path when she was a high school student.

“When I made the decision to become a teacher, I really wanted to become the teacher I never had,” said Minerd, who graduated from Connellsville Area in 1988.

Minerd's dedication to such a goal now has concrete results as she and fellow district instructor Jodi Ovitsky were recently recognized during St. Vincent College's “Great Teachers Recognition Program.”

The pair was two of 35 instructors in three states to receive the awards given “for excellence in teaching that provides a positive and enduring influence on students,” said Don Orlando, spokesman at the Unity college.

In letters of congratulations to the selected teachers, Brother Norman Hipps, the college's president, thanked the teachers for making a difference in the personal and intellectual development of their students.

“Teaching is a wonderful profession, and St. Vincent College recognizes the important role teachers play in the development of youth,” Hipps said.

Minerd and Ovitsky, who both teach at the district's junior-senior high school, were each nominated for the awards by former students who are currently freshmen studying at St. Vincent.

In Minerd's case, Justin Overly pointed to her influence on the choices he made as both a student and a person throughout his high school years.

“She has had the biggest influence on me when making decisions, and always kept me on the right track,” Overly said. “She is always willing to help students with problems they have with a subject, problems in school and any problems they may have outside of school. She is a great teacher and really helped students understand information.”

Minerd has taught anatomy, life science, academic biology, general biology, technical biology and botany. She currently teaches 9th-grade academic biology/lab and anatomy.

Minerd recalled Overly as one of the students she had who helped her fulfill her mission of being a difference-maker.

“There's certain kids you sort of click with, and Justin was one of them,” she said.

Minerd graduated in 1988 from Connellsville Area before earning a bachelor's degree in secondary education with a concentration in biology in 1992 from California University of Pennsylvania. That year, she began teaching as a substitute at Mt. Pleasant Area, and she was hired full-time in 1999.

In 2007, she earned a master's degree in education with a concentration on administration, also at Cal U. Minerd is chairwoman of the school's science department and she also leads the school's Interact Club.

For roughly five years, Minerd has also served as the district's senior class faculty sponsor.

Regardless of her extensive resume, Minerd said the recognition came as a surprise to her.

“I was shocked when I found out,” she said. “Any recognition is good, especially in this profession. And I don't have my own kids, so the students sort of feel like they're mine when I have them.”

Ovitsky, who teaches physical science and chemistry at the school, was nominated for the recognition by former student Melissa Giron, who referred to her as being “by far the best teacher I have ever had the pleasure of learning from.”

Giron went on to say that Ovitsky taught her the basic fundamentals of science and a lot more.

“She taught me about life. Through her class, I gained a better understanding of myself, and she was always there to guide me along,” she said. “I couldn't thank her enough for offering me her assistance in every topic I needed help with, and she continues to be an inspiration for me.”

One day, Giron said, she will be thanking Ovitsky greatly for her kind words and brilliant expertise.

“Anyone who is her student is lucky, in more than one way,” she said.

Ovitsky is a 1996 Southmoreland graduate who earned a bachelor of science degree in chemistry in 2000 and a master's degree in curriculum instruction in 2006, both from St. Vincent. She began teaching full-time at Mt. Pleasant Area in 2003.

When informed of the recognition, she said she was “very stunned, but honored.”

“I taught Melissa in 9th grade for physical science and then again in 11th grade for chemistry. She also came to me for advice. We were very close. Even in college, she would continue to keep in touch through email,” Ovitsky said.

“She definitely makes me feel the value in what I do,” she said.

A.J. Panian is an editor for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-547-5722 or