Skip to main content
Skip to navigation

May 2, 2013 Volume 34, No. 29

Kemper Fellowship winners put students first


Five faculty earn $10,000 fellowship

Five MU faculty received Kemper Fellowships in April for their teaching service. Deputy Chancellor Michael A. Middleton and other administrators made surprise visits to their classrooms. Cheryl Black, an associate professor in the theater department, was teaching April 2 in the Fine Arts Annex when she was notified. “My students keep me on my toes,” Black said after the announcement. “They keep me inspired.”

The William T. Kemper Fellowships for Teaching Excellence was established by the William T. Kemper Foundation in 1991 with a $500,000 gift to honor outstanding teachers at the University of Missouri.

Every spring, top MU administrators and executives from Commerce Bank, the trustee for the Kemper Foundation, interrupt the classes of new Kemper Fellows and surprise each of them with a $10,000 gift.

Over the years, Kemper Fellows have commented on how the awards enhance faculty morale and reward the important role of teaching in higher education.

Kemper, a 1926 MU graduate, was a well-known civic leader in Kansas City. His 52-year career in banking included top positions in Missouri, Kansas and Oklahoma. The William T. Kemper Foundation, established in 1989 after his death, is dedicated to continuing Kemper’s lifelong interest in improving the human condition and quality of life through education, health and human services, civic improvements and the arts.

Reporter Kelsey Allen profiles this year's winners.

Betsy Baker

Betsy BakerProfessor of Literacy Studies in the Department of English

Betsy Baker teaches the way she wants her students to teach. She is a teacher of teachers.

Baker started as a second-grade teacher, spelling out the ABCs for students learning to read and write. Now Baker focuses on the next wave of literacy — in a digital world.

 “She is so committed to helping teachers understand the critical need to shift their literacy instruction from traditional reading and writing skills to the reading and writing skills required in our technological culture,” wrote John Lannin, associate professor and chair of Learning, Teaching and Curriculum in the College of Education.

Whether on campus or online, Baker fosters a sense of community, encourages discussion, employs the newest technology available and provides students with examples of how to transfer what they’re learning to the classroom.

“I am [now] much more interested in researching and using online collaboration than I ever thought I would be,” a student wrote of Baker’s suggestion to use social networking sites, YouTube, podcasts and blogs in the classroom. “After introducing [my high school history students] to Google Docs, they were extremely excited to try it out. I do not think I have ever had a class as engaged as they were that day.”

Baker created a multimedia platform called Children as Literacy Kases, or ChALK, in which her students explore cases of literacy development and propose how to best teach the students in the classroom. ChALK users cite the case-based instruction as more significant to their growth as literacy teachers than student teaching, course readings or discussions.

Baker is also a driving force behind better preparing doctoral students for qualitative research. In a two-semester sequence, she helps students formulate and propose research, collect and analyze data, and write final papers. Mentoring more than 75 doctoral students in this course, Baker reaches outside the College of Education to those in nursing, theater and social work.

“Her instruction has caused a snowball effect that can be observed locally on the MU campus, regionally with teachers in Missouri, and nationally/internationally with teachers, program executives and researchers in our respective disciplines,” former students of Baker — professionals now in science education, social work, and educational leadership and policy analysis — wrote in a joint letter of support.

Her revolutionary teaching and research has won Baker numerous honors, including the 2012 President’s Award for Innovative Teaching and the 2011 Ernest L. Boyer International Award of Excellence in Teaching, Learning, and Technology.

Cheryl Black

Cheryl BlackAssociate Professor of Acting, Theatre History/Theory/Criticism in the Department of Theatre

To describe Cheryl Black as a teacher doesn’t quite encompass all that she is. She is also an actor, a director, a playwright, an editor, an adviser, a historian and, as colleague Suzanne Burgonye put it, a force of nature.

For eight years she served as the theatre department’s director of graduate studies, attracting top-tier students, securing grants and fellowships, participating in conferences and serving on the committees of dissertations.

But students know her as teacher.

“Whether it be through class discussion on students’ interpretations of dramatic literature, presentations of ‘reader’s choice’ plays in her graduate seminar on women’s dramatic traditions, or in the selection of final research topics as part of her undergraduate theatre history course, the diverse teaching strategies Dr. Black employs in her classroom increase student engagement and investment in the course and course material,” wrote doctoral candidate Emily Rollie.

For example, Black’s undergraduate theatre history students are assigned to research a well-known figure in theatre history and eventually asked to embody that person in dress and character at the end-of-the-semester party she hosts.

“I provide opportunities for students to do theatre as well as to study it,” Black wrote in her philosophy of teaching statement.

Black’s major contributions to the department include creating a dramaturgy program, which has led to numerous national awards for her students; developing a theatre criticism program in conjunction with the School of Journalism; and directing full productions at Mizzou.

“An important aspect of Dr. Black’s productions is the combination of research, scholarship and creative activity — and she is masterful in finding teaching moments in every one of the productions she has directed,” wrote David Crespy, associate professor in the theatre department.

In summer 2012, Black won the Outstanding Teacher of Theatre in Higher Education Award, the highest teaching award from the Association for Theatre in Higher Education.

Tim Evans

Tim EvansAssociate Professor of Toxicology in the Department of Veterinary Pathobiology

If a dog ingests something that's toxic, it's The Antidote to the rescue, treating the patient, not just the poison. Dressed in mask and cape, The Antidote is Tim Evans’ alter ego, saving one “stale” (his words) veterinary toxicology lecture at a time. Evans, also known for his Hawaiian shirts that occasionally depict toxic plants, has been spicing up the field of toxicology at MU for 12 years.

Understanding toxicology is important to veterinary professionals; however, the expectation of memorizing every poison is unrealistic. Evans favors experiential learning in the classroom, using a data collection exercise he calls Pick Your Poison. Students choose a common household product from the Box of Tox and determine if a 10-pound dog would risk intoxication if it consumed the product. Putting students in real-life situations they will face after graduation, while requiring them to explain the basis for the clinical symptoms, creates a captivating learning environment.

Many former students wrote about Evans’ availability for one-on-one mentoring and after-hour consultations. For Evans, it’s a calculated formula.

“I like to divide student mentorship into ‘nurturing’ (they are glad I am there), ‘benign neglect’ (they don’t know I am there), and ‘tormentorship’ (they know I am there, and they wish I was not),” he wrote in his teaching philosophy statement.

Recent graduate Colleen Risinger wrote it was Evans’ benign neglect that forced her to solve problems on her own..

Often commented on is Evans’ sense of humor, a tool he uses in concert with this enthusiasm and expertise. When asked to teach summer veterinary scholars how to succinctly present their research to the general public, Evans donned his superhero costume and led the students to the nearest elevator for a lesson in elevator pitches.

“He has been known to make no less than 20 trips up and down the elevator in the Bond Life Sciences Center dressed as The Antidote just to teach students how to summarize their work in concise elevator statements,” wrote student Daniel Tappmeyer.

Evans has won each of the most prestigious teaching awards within the College of Veterinary Medicine, including the 2012 Carl F. Norden-Pfizer Veterinary Teacher Award and the honor of hooding the fourth-year veterinary students during commencement. Oh, and he was Mizzou Wire’s 2010 Nerd of the Year, too.

William Horner

William HornerAssociate Teaching Professor and Director of Undergraduate Studies in the Department of Political Science

Party politics and ideology come up in William Horner’s American Government course, but some of his most notable lessons are taught outside of the classroom. As the adviser of three student groups — Model United Nations, Mizzou Relay for Life and Phi Sigma Alpha — Horner is training students how to be American citizens.

“This allows me another venue to encourage students to be involved in the world they live in and to learn how to change what they think needs changing,” Horner wrote of his involvement in extracurricular activities. “It lets students see that I care about what they care about and, most importantly, that I care enough to give my time and energy to it.”

Students notice. Marc Canellas, a 2012 engineering graduate, had a seed of an idea for a conference that discusses the connections among the fields of engineering, politics and science. A peer urged Canellas to reach out to Horner for help. The student chapters of the political science honor society, Pi Sigma Alpha, and the American Society of Mechanical Engineers partnered to present the conference, which featured speakers Horner secured, including Sen. Kit Bond and former U.S. representatives Kenny Hulshof and Rush Holt.

“There are many inspirational teachers who support their students and tell them, ‘You can do it,’ but I am a living testament to Prof. Horner’s ability to go beyond supporting students in their pursuit of their dreams,” Canellas wrote. “He took ownership of my dream and said, ‘We can do it.’ Prof. Horner showed me for the first time that I really can make a positive and lasting impact on my community.”

Horner’s goal — whether in the classroom, where his students could be political science majors or journalism students fulfilling a requirement, or on the track at Relay for Life — is to engage students and instill in them curiosity and a passion for leadership.

“Bill’s commitment to the philanthropic service aspect of the mission to the University of Missouri cannot be spoken [of] highly enough,” wrote Craig Stevenson, former student and University of Missouri System director of the Office of Government Relations. “Whether raising tens of thousands of dollars for the Mizzou Relay for Life while serving as its faculty advisor or working with the political science honorary society after regular business hours, Bill is seeking ways to give back to Mizzou and to the broader Columbia community.”

Angela Speck

Angela SpeckProfessor of Physics and Astronomy

When people describe Angela Speck as “stellar” or a “shining star in her field,” they aren’t choosing words lightly. As one of only two astronomers at MU, Speck is spearheading efforts to take the department to the next level.

In her role as department director, Speck revamped the curriculum geared toward nonscience majors, established upper-level courses in astronomy and implemented new teaching methods.

Along with post-doctoral fellow Lanika Ruzitskaya and College of Education Professor Jim Laffey, Speck received a National Science Foundation grant to develop a 3-D model of Jupiter to help nonscience majors better understand the science, which Ruzitskaya wrote is cementing MU as a “pioneer in the field of technology-enhanced education in astronomy.”

“She teaches students not only about physical phenomena in astronomy and physics but also how to understand the nature of science,” Ruzhitskaya wrote. “She believes that understanding the scientific process is much more valuable than recollection of formulas and facts.”

Whether her classroom is full of science fiction fanatics or astrophysicists, Speck cultivates an interest in astronomy.

“She weaves the course into a novel, in which every class lecture is part of a chapter of that novel,” wrote student David Arrant. “Just as one gets captivated into a great novel, one gets captivated into her class.”

Speck also serves as the MU representative to the Centers for the Integration of Research, Teaching and Learning, a network of 25 universities committed to preparing graduate students for teaching STEM disciplines.

“Education is the thread that binds my research, teaching and service together,” Speck wrote of her teaching philosophy.

She combines her passions through her multiple community outreach efforts, including a monthly Cosmic Conversations lecture series, guided tours of the Laws Observatory and classroom visits for K-12 students.

“[She is an] outstanding educator — not one who merely imparts information but who opens doors and possibilities to others through her teachings,” wrote Deborah Hanuscin, associate professor of science education.