May 20, 2019


Dr. Fishbaugh receiving her award

College of Education presents professional awards

Awards presented to Newman Elementary School, Linda Vrooman Peterson, and Mary Susan Fishbaugh



University Relations and Communications, 657-2266


MSU BILLINGS NEWS—One local school and two people closely tied to education were honored with awards at the Montana State University Billings College of Education (COE) convocation ceremony held on May 3.

Newman Elementary School in Billings was honored for its partnership with the college while Linda Vrooman Peterson and Mary Susan Fishbaugh were recognized for their lifetime achievements in education.  

The Partners in Excellence Award is presented in recognition of outstanding service and contributions to the COE; the award has been presented since 1999.

For the 2018-2019 school year, the Partners in Excellence Award was presented to Newman Elementary School for their partnership with pre-service teachers from the COE. Students from MSU Billings were able to interact with children, teachers and the principal from Newman during the last two years and, according to Donna Bulatowicz, assistant professor in the COE, were given the opportunity to “learn that teaching is about the children in front of them, not the lesson written on paper.”

Melanie Reaves, assistant professor in the COE, noted a real-life experience one of her students had in a Newman classroom just two weeks prior, where the student learned that the pain of a child “is more important than reading” and where the student learned the importance of empathizing and showing the student that he or she cared.

Dean of the COE, Mary Susan Fishbaugh, presented the first Benedict J. Surwill Lifetime Achievement Award. This award honors individuals for their lifetime of achievements in education and is named for Dean Emeritus, Benedict J. Surwill, who served as the dean of the College of Education from 1968 to 1989. Fishbaugh presented the award to Linda Vrooman Peterson for her service with the Montana Office of Public Instruction (OPI).

“Dr. Peterson is the epitome of professionalism,” Fishbaugh noted as she presented the award. “I have watched her sooth frantic nerves (including mine)… Dr. Peterson is able to remain calm in the ever changing landscape of state government, while meeting deadlines with staff turnover and juggling more tasks than most of us can imagine.”

Vrooman Peterson completed the first half of her education career in elementary and educator preparation programs in California and North Dakota as a teacher, administrator, and assistant professor. The second half of her career began in August of 1990 with the OPI; she currently serves as the Division Administrator of School Accreditation.  

Following her presentation of Vrooman Peterson’s award, Fishbaugh herself was surprised to learn that the COE faculty had chosen to honor her with the Benedict J. Surwill Lifetime Achievement Award as well.

For fifty years, Fishbaugh has been an educator. She has been a part of the COE since 1990, serving as the director of student teaching, professor of special education, department chair and as the first female dean of the College of Education.

“I have said this many times,” said Cindy Dell, department chair of educational theory and practice in the COE, who presented Fishbaugh with the award, “Mary Susan has mentored me and taught me more than she will ever know. She has been the stable force for all of us, through thick and thin, good times and challenges. She leaves us too soon.”

“So,” Dell continued, “because of her love, care, and dedication to the professions of teaching and counseling, the faculty and I are awarding her the most prestigious award given at the college, the lifetime achievement award. Thank you, Mary Susan.”

These awards were established to honor educational professionals who serve as role model for faculty, staff and preservice teachers.