Dr. Max Engel Honored with 2019 Pressley Award for a Promising Scholar in the Education Field
By: Kenna Arana
ACE teachers wholeheartedly commit themselves to teaching, coaching school sports, and above all, sharing Christ’s love with their students. Dr. Max Engel has taken those attributes above and beyond to the college classroom – earning him recognition as the 2019 recipient of the Michael Pressley Award for a Promising Scholar in the Education Field.
Engel, a member of ACE 5 (Montgomery) and Remick 2, received the honor at the Alliance for Catholic Education’s commencement on Saturday, July 13. The award is given annually to an ACE graduate whose work in academia echoes Pressley’s commitment to strengthening education through research and scholarship. Engel is being honored for his dedication to researching religious formation and instruction in Catholic schools as well as the formation of identity of Catholic schools and faculty.
Engel is dually appointed as a professor in both the education and theology departments at Creighton University, although his work is not limited to strengthening the mind and heart. Two years ago, Engel developed “Sport and Spirituality” course to help students recognize that Catholic education should be concerned with the development of the whole human person.
“Catholic education provides a reminder about transcendent values,” he says. “We offer an education of soul, spirit, mind, heart, and body.”
Engel’s commitment to the formation of the whole person is the reason he was interested in ACE after first learning about the program.
In the fall of 1993, Engel took a road trip with friends from Boston College to Notre Dame. While on campus, he struck up a conversation with a Fisher Hall resident, who told him about ACE and gave him the name and number of ACE’s founder, Fr. Tim Scully, CSC. Over Christmas break, Engel looked up ACE and was drawn to its three pillars: teacher formation, community, and spiritual growth.
“I was deeply involved in campus ministry at Boston College, and my parents are both educators,” he says. “I was seeking something, and I understood that I was invited to do and be more. ACE was unapologetic about saying, ‘This is who we are.’”
Engel views his time in ACE as a turning point in his life, one that impacts his scholarship and research today. “In ACE, it was not just about what I was doing; ACE started me on the why,” he says. “ACE taught me, or led me, to understand that it’s to make God known, loved, and served.”
After ACE, Engel taught for six years at a school in Omaha, where he started dating and eventually married Beth McCarthy, a member of ACE 4. Engel then completed the Remick Leadership Program but realized that he was drawn to something other than school leadership. “I wanted to train teachers to teach theology,” he says.
This discovery led him to the Catholic University of America, where he earned a master’s degree in theology and a doctorate in religious education and catechetics. As part of his research, he analyzed the cognitive, affective, and catechetical dimensions of Catholic high school religion textbooks. After completing his doctorate, Engel wanted to teach both education and theology, and it just so happened that Creighton University needed a part-time instructor in both departments. Once Engel and his family moved back to Omaha, Engel sought to go above and beyond the basic requirements of teaching.
“I thought, ‘I want to make myself invaluable,’” Engel says.
He started teaching in the MAGIS Catholic Teaching Corps, a program at Creighton similar to ACE. Through this program, Engel teaches graduate-level courses in education, preparing teachers to teach in Catholic schools. Engel’s commitment to the three ACE pillars of teacher formation, community, and spiritual growth shines through in the work that he does with his current students.
“To our Catholic Church, education provides a leaven,” he says. “I train and prepare teachers that I want to know their stuff because they might be teaching my kids one day. I say to my students, ‘Our world needs you in leadership positions. I trust that you’re willing, because of your education, to wrestle with these issues and understand what’s at stake.’”
Engel’s students recognize his dedication and, through their evaluations and feedback, Engel’s teaching is continually identified as being in the top percentile of faculty. He has also received two student-recommended awards for teaching and for major advising in the College of Arts and Sciences.
Although Engel’s scholarship and research focuses on the formation of Catholic school and theology teachers and the Catholic identity of schools, he also pursues an interest in the intersection of faith and sports. He coached high school basketball during his time in ACE, and he now coaches his children’s basketball and soccer teams. For him, this is another way of making God known, loved, and served.
“Sports are part of our use of God’s gifts,” Engel says. “Our end goal is to be who God created us and gifted us to be.”
Not only does Engel coach to serve his children and community, he also finds that he becomes a better teacher through coaching.
“Coaching is a way to encounter,” he says. “The best coaches are outstanding teachers. A coach is constantly giving his/her athletes feedback and, as teachers, we should be continually assessing.”
Engel sees another similarity in working with students and athletes, who are typically both. “They want to know you care, they want to be engaged, they want your feedback, they want to know why this matters,” he says.
Engel’s conviction about why his work matters deepened as a result of his experience in ACE. “We are called to know God more deeply, to serve God more efficiently, and to love God more perfectly,” he says. “I have no problem articulating that my mission is to be an outstanding human being.”