By Published: May 16, 2023

CU Boulder faculty member recognized with national excellence in teaching award from a leading group for professional, continuing and online education

Karen Gebhardt, faculty director for Undergraduate Online Learning and the director of the Online Economics Program, has won a national excellence in teaching award from the University Professional and Continuing Education Association (UPCEA), a leading group for professional, continuing and online education.

The UPCEA, which gave Gebhardt the award in March at its annual conference in Washington, D.C.,  bestows the honor to those who have provided “outstanding teaching, course development, mentoring of students and service to continuing education.” 

Judges say they were impressed with all aspects of Gebhardt’s nomination. One judge wrote, “I saw that she was taking constructive criticism and making changes. She was listening to her students.” 

Image of Karen G.

Prior to joining CU in 2018, Karen Gebhardt worked for Colorado State University in the Economics Department leading the online program, teaching core and elective courses, and improving student learning outcomes and at the United States Department of Agriculture conducting research related to the interactions of humans and wildlife. She earned her Master and Ph.D. degrees in Economics from Colorado State University. (Read her bio here)

Another judge wrote, “The materials for this nomination clearly illustrate the impact the nominee has had as a faculty member in her department. Most notably, it is clear that the nominee has been a champion for online education and effective instructional design within her unit. For example, it was shared that at the onset of the pandemic, the nominee stepped outside of her immediate teaching responsibilities to create a course that provided other faculty with the foundational knowledge they needed to successfully navigate remote teaching.”

Gebhardt says the award “speaks to the excellent work that’s done at CU Boulder and in the College of Arts and Sciences to support online education, and receiving this award means the world to me. My goal is to help others be successful learners and teachers. To me, good teaching is all about student success, and I’m constantly evaluating my teaching and students' learning to improve success.”

Gebhardt and her team are credited with getting all the courses needed to complete the economics major online as of this spring. All nine required 1000, 2000, 3000, and 4000-level courses are online, and a rotating group of three to four 4000-level electives are now offered every term. 

“This has provided flexibility for our students and offered additional elective options, so students can complete their degree quicker, and in some cases, it has allowed students to complete their degree when they could no longer attend in-person classes because of health, family or work reasons,” Gebhardt says.

She says she’s also pleased with being named in January as the inaugural faculty director for Undergraduate Online Learning, supporting senior vice provost of online education, Robert McDonald. 

“I’m really excited for this position because it demonstrates the university’s continued commitment to excellence in online teaching and learning,” she says. “And part of this role involves supporting Glen Krutz, the dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, to help him realize his stated goal to support student success through increasing online teaching and learning in the college.” 

Gebhardt became interested in teaching after working as a teaching assistant in her undergraduate and graduate programs. 

“I loved teaching so much that I’d spend my time preparing to teach instead of completing my research projects,” she says. 

She went on to earn her PhD and completed research related to her dissertation topic in natural-resource economics and agricultural economics. However, since shifting her focus to teaching about 10 years ago, she has published articles and given many presentations related to teaching and improving student success in online education.

I like how online education supports student success—especially for those students who need flexibility when they access the course materials, communicate with their peers and the instructor and complete assignments.”

“I love online education for a ton of reasons. To teach online well, it’s really challenging. The curriculum may be the same, but the pedagogy can be quite different. So, it’s really fun and exciting to develop a good online course. I also like how online education supports student success—especially for those students who need flexibility when they access the course materials, communicate with their peers and the instructor and complete assignments.”

When asked if she had a teacher who made a difference in her life, Gebhardt says the former chair of the Department of Economics, Nicholas Flores, has been “an incredible mentor.”

“He’s not my teacher in a traditional sense, because I have never taken a class from him, but he has been an important mentor. He’s honest and transparent, always has time, listens well, provides fair and honest advice, is an advocate, and gives me the trust and agency to get things done. It is incredibly motivating, and I have learned to be a better mentor and administrator myself.”