COLUMBIA — Wayne Brekhus, a man ordinarily of many words, was speechless.
Brekhus, associate professor of sociology at MU, displayed a glowing face and loss of words as MU Chancellor Brady Deaton presented him with the William T. Kemper Fellowship for Teaching Excellence on Tuesday during a class he was teaching.
The Kemper Awards were established in 1991, two years after the death of 1926 MU graduate William T. Kemper. Kemper, a banker and civic leader from Kansas City, gave MU $500,000 for the awards, which can be used at the recipient’s discretion. Commerce Bank manages the trust fund. The other four of the 2008 awards will be presented Wednesday.
“I would like your class to know that you’re being taught by a very distinguished teacher,” Deaton told Brekhus’ class. “It’s a thrill for us to be able to recognize that kind of excellence.”
A round of applause from Brekhus’ students filled the classroom in Middlebush Hall after the announcement.
“I’m just thrilled,” Brekhus said. “I really don’t know what to say. I’m very honored. I think teaching is very important and I enjoy it a great deal, so it’s great to be able to share it with so many students.”
Deaton, along with Michael O’Brien, dean of MU’s College of Arts and Science, offered congratulations and appreciation.
“On behalf of the university, we’re very proud of the role you play here in the classroom and congratulate you, your department and the College of Arts and Science,” Deaton said.
Brekhus said he was somewhat discombobulated as he tried to finish out the class period. He said his first call after class would be to his wife.
Lauren Sanborn, who had Brekhus three out of her four semesters at MU, was one of the students who wrote a letter on Brekhus’ behalf.
“He has an utter genuineness about him,” she said. “He goes out of his way to talk with, encourage and help students. He is always optimistic and includes elements of humor in his lectures.”
Brekhus said that the most rewarding part of teaching is motivating his students.
“I just really love seeing the excitement and passion in students, and I like to try and motivate that and stir it,” he said. “And it’s fun to follow students through the process. They go on to do other things and you hear from them, some of them become something very successful. It’s very rewarding and I really enjoy it.”
The next step for Brekhus is writing thank-you notes to those who wrote letters for him and who have supported him..
“I heard some of them wrote some really long, good letters and usually I’m the one writing letters for them, so it’s a nice change,” he said.