'Innovative' MCC-Penn Valley faculty member Karen Curls receives national honor for teaching

May 10, 2022 | Tim Engle

Karen Curls, criminal justice program coordinator and a longtime faculty member at Metropolitan Community College-Penn Valley, has been recognized nationally as a community college educator who makes a difference in the classroom.

She was one of 29 instructors from across the country (and the only one from Missouri) honored with the 2022 Dale P. Parnell Distinguished Faculty award from the American Association of Community Colleges. Winners were celebrated May 1 as part of the AACC Annual, a convention held this year in New York City.

Curls is "an innovative faculty member who brings real-world learning experiences to the classroom," MCC-Penn Valley President Tyjaun A. Lee wrote in a letter of nomination. For example, she creates simulated crime scenes for her criminal justice students, even employing high-tech mannequins from Penn Valley's health sciences programs.

Curls is also the founder and co-coordinator of MCC's annual Civil Rights Pilgrimage, a springtime bus tour that takes students and community members to notable African-American historic sites across the South. She created the Corinthian B. Nutter Scholarship for students who want to take part in the pilgrimage but need financial assistance.

In addition to her service on a variety of campus and college committees over more than 30 years, Curls has also served on several external committees. One example, Lee says, is the Urban Summit, a community conference that focuses on the lives of people of color in Greater Kansas City. MCC-Penn Valley hosts the event each year.

"Throughout my academic career at MCC, I've received continuous support from faculty colleagues and administrators in the creation of innovative classes and the development of community partners," Curls says. "I'm humbled by this recognition."

Curls became a full-time MCC criminal justice instructor in 1989, and for 16 years starting in 2001 she served as social sciences division chair at Penn Valley. She co-founded the Brooks Institute at MCC (named for KC social justice advocate Alvin Brooks), an initiative centered on crime prevention, criminal justice and contemporary issues associated with violence. She also co-founded MCC's African American Faculty and Staff Association.

She has been honored with the Governor's Award for Excellence in Teaching from the Missouri Community College Association.