A+ teachers: Two K-State grads honored with surprise awards for excellence in education

Posted June 08, 2022


Megan (Dietrich) Morgan ’08, ’10 thought she was attending an assembly to celebrate state assessment results. 

Yet as the library media specialist at Oliver Brown Elementary School in Manhattan, Kansas, looked around the room, she noticed some unusual guests in attendance. She soon discovered that this was no ordinary assembly — instead, she was about to be presented with a Milken Educator Award. 

Events like this one are part of the Milken Family Foundation’s coast-to-coast tour surprising outstanding educators with the Milken Educator Award and its accompanying unrestricted $25,000 cash prize. It is often hailed as the “Oscars of Teaching.”

“When they announced my name, I was in total shock,” Morgan said. “It’s so humbling to be recognized for doing what I love.”

And Morgan isn’t the only K-Stater to be recently honored by the organization: Ryan Pfeifer ’11, high school biology teacher at Washburn Rural in Topeka, Kansas, also has received the award. 

“It’s been a whirlwind, I’m still processing,” Pfeifer said of receiving the award. He sees the honor as a challenge to keep excelling in the classroom. “It’s nice to win to get the validation, but I have a lot of career left — I’m not done.”

Meet Ryan Pfeifer ’11

Ryan Pfeifer

Photo cutline: Surrounded by cameras and microphones, science teacher Ryan Pfeifer talks with reporters at his surprise Milken Educator Award assembly. (Photo by Milken Family Foundation)

Pfeifer didn’t originally plan on being a teacher when he arrived at K-State. He thought he wanted to be a dentist, but he wasn’t connecting with his classes.

As he thought back to his high school teachers, and the environment and experience of being in an academic setting, he realized that a career in education was the right fit for him. 

“I love just being around an academic institution — it’s all about pursuing education, excellence and self-betterment,” said Pfeifer, who also serves as chair of the science department at Washburn Rural. “I wanted to do for others what my teachers did for me.”

Pfeifer said it’s hard to pick the one thing he loves most about teaching. He loves working with students and the optimistic, positive viewpoint they bring to the classroom. He also loves working with his colleagues.

He enjoys watching the entire educational process — from developing a lesson plan, to delivering the lesson, to watching the students apply that knowledge. 

“Every day is a different topic, every day is a different situation,” he said.

As he continues in his career, he wants to strike a balance between rigorous academics and making learning fun and engaging for his students.  

“I’m where I want to be,” he said. “I want to continue to be in the classroom.”

Meet Megan (Dietrich) Morgan ’08, ’10

Megan Morgan

Photo cutline: Megan Morgan gets a congratulatory hug from a very special and extremely proud third grader: her daughter Clara. (Photo by Milken Family Foundation)

Morgan said she wanted to be a teacher ever since she was little. She even recalls lining up her stuffed animals to practice “teaching” them.

She taught for seven years in the classroom, and is now in her seventh year in the library, working with grades K-5. 

“I love the library. I love being able to work with every student,” she said. 

Her favorite part of teaching is watching students experience an “aha moment” as she helps them over a hurdle.  She loves seeing them discover a book they connect with, find what they’re passionate about, and then put that into action through a project.

“It’s looking at what each and every student needs, and differentiating the instruction to those individual needs,” she said. “Every kid needs something a little bit different.”