What started with a little girl watching "Sesame Street" ended with a college instructor making waves and earning statewide recognition.

In an office full of newspaper clippings from stories on American Sign Language, Gallaudet University paraphernalia and posters alluding to deaf culture, Tanya Hoting Mrazek's dedication to her trade is easy to see-even easier with the addition of two awards honoring her exceptional work.

The Central Lakes College ASL instructor was named CLC's Outstanding Educator for 2018-19 in December, an honor bestowed upon her by her peers.

"It was a huge surprise and a great honor to be selected from all of my co-workers," she said during an interview in her office Thursday, April 18.

The CLC award advanced Hoting Mrazek into a pool of nominees for an even bigger recognition as a recipient of the Excellence in Teaching award from the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities Board of Trustees. She was among six instructors in the Minnesota State system who received the honor during a ceremony Wednesday, April 17, in St. Paul.

"Tanya is one of those individuals who puts her heart and soul into everything she does," CLC President Hara Charlier said Thursday. "She works very hard to inspire students and provide them with an educational experience that's based on immersion in American Sign Language."

Hoting Mrazek's own journey with ASL started long ago, when she first saw sign language used in an episode of "Sesame Street."

"At that point, I was like, 'That's so cool. I want to learn that,'" she said. "That was my first experience with sign language, and it kind of went from there."

Fast forward to present day, and the Staples native spreads her love of ASL and deaf culture to both students and staff at her alma mater, where she has taught since 1995 and is now the sole ASL instructor.

A knick-knack on her desk reads, "Teachers affect eternity; they can never tell where their influence stops," paying tribute to her goal as an educator.

"I love to see when my students can go out into the community and become an ally for the deaf culture," she said. "That's really what I enjoy."

And that seems to be exactly what's happening.

"Her students also have her heart for teaching people about American Sign Language and deaf culture," Charlier said, noting she learned how to sign "How was your day?" and "president" from Hoting Mrazek's students.

"She creates allies," Charlier added.

She also creates a positive learning environment for her students, according to Taylor Leenerts, who has taken three of Hoting Mrazek's classes.

"She's my absolute favorite," Leenerts said. "She tells you you're allowed to make mistakes because that's how you learn. So you're encouraged to make mistakes because that means you're trying, which I really like."

Leenerts, who also praised Hoting Mrazek's patience and open door policy, plans to take many more classes with her favorite instructor, with the goal of attaining her deaf studies certificate, which allows students to carry an emphasis in deaf studies with them to any career choice they may choose.

But even more than gaining marketable skills, being able to interact with and make deaf people feel more comfortable in everyday situations is what Hoting Mrazek really hopes her students can accomplish.

"If a deaf person in the community can go to the bank and somebody signs at their window, just makes it a tad bit easier for them, that's great," she said. "If they can go to the grocery store and a cashier uses some sign language, that's great. ... I love that allyship that they can use in the community."

She also wants to shape her students' attitudes toward deaf people, making sure they know someone who is deaf can do absolutely anything except hear.

"And really," she said, "that does not really limit deaf folks from doing anything."

But there were limits on words Hoting Mrazek could find to describe her reaction to the latest award. She did, however, come up with a few.

"It's amazing to be able to have the honor of getting that award," she said. "It's very special and humbling."

And those around her note it's well-deserved.

"She makes us very proud," Charlier said. "She embodies everything that we stand for regarding helping our students to build our futures."