COLUMBIA — Two MU professors were caught off guard early Monday afternoon as they were paid visits from Chancellor Brady Deaton and were named recipients of a prestigious MU award. Part of the surprise included an award of $10,000.
The William T. Kemper Fellowships for Teaching Excellence have been given out to five outstanding MU educators annually since 1991 and are funded by a $500,000 gift from the family that founded Commerce and United Missouri banks. William Kemper was a 1926 MU graduate prior to his career in banking.
MU College of Engineering assistant professor Gregory Triplett's semiconductors and devices class was interrupted by Deaton, Commerce Bank Chairman Jim Schatz and a group of supporters, including his wife and department heads, to award Triplett the fellowship. It is a tradition to present the award during a class.
Deaton described Triplett's work "teaching some of the toughest classes" in the department of electrical and computer engineering and emphasized his commitment to students. Triplett acts as the adviser to the MU chapter of the National Society of Black Engineers and has received a grant from the National Science Foundation to help increase retention of students in his field.
Upon receiving the Kemper award, Triplett said, "I think that this is more of an indicator of the support that I get from the department and the college to encourage excellent teaching. Sometimes it requires a lot of work, but I think that the students really give me real-time feedback and that helps out a lot."
He added, jokingly, "I'm not sharing the money, but thanks for the support."
Kelton Clements, a student in his class, said Triplett deserves the award. "From my experience, teachers are sometimes more focused on their research than the actual teaching part of the job, but Dr. Triplett actually does a great job of teaching."
The second recipient of the day, professor Anand Prahlad from MU's English department, is in the midst of a yearlong research leave as he works on a memoir and a manuscript of poetry. Prahlad usually works from home but was told he needed to be on campus for a meeting.
The soft-spoken Prahlad said he was in shock and that he considered it "a special honor" to be considered among the winners of the award.
Prahlad teaches creative writing, folklore, Africana literature and film studies. Deaton said he had been aware of Prahlad's reputation for a while because three of his children took classes with Prahlad during their time at MU.
MU English department executive staff assistant Sharon Black said, "Students comment about how much he cares. ... He's really concerned about them as people, not just as students."
Prahlad said he was influenced by mentors throughout his education and is aware of the impact they had on his life. "I try to be that kind of mentor for my students," he said.
Three more recipients of the fellowship will be presented the award Tuesday.