COLUMBIA — Chancellor Brady Deaton and a gaggle of supporters entered Professor Michael Ugarte's cramped classroom in Strickland Hall to announce that he was a recipient of a top teaching award at MU. For a moment, he clapped for himself. Then, he turned the attention to his students and applauded them.
Ugarte was the fifth and final recipient of the 2010 William T. Kemper Fellowship for Teaching Excellence. The fellowships are given annually to five outstanding MU educators and include a $10,000 award that is funded by a $500,000 gift from the family that founded Commerce and United Missouri banks. William Kemper was a 1926 MU graduate before beginning his career in banking.
The first two award winners were announced Monday and three more received unexpected visits from Deaton, Commerce Bank Chairman Jim Schatz and supporters Tuesday.
The first award of the day was given to department of classical studies professor Michael Barnes in the middle of his Classics in a Cross-Cultural Context class. He also teaches introductory and graduate-level courses in the Honors College, humanities sequence and languages. Along with his role as a teacher, Barnes is the editor of "Classical and Modern Literature," a journal published by the department of classical studies.
The next award was given to Srinath Gopalakrishna, the David and Judy O'Neal MBA Professor and professor of marketing in the Trulaske College of Business. A marketing meeting was interrupted to surprise Gopalakrishna with the award.
Schatz said it was "particularly a pleasure" for him to assist in giving the Kemper award to a professor in Gopalakrishna's department, as three of his own children graduated from MU's business school.
Ugarte, the final award winner, was in the middle of an upper-level Spanish poetry class when he was surprised by the award group. Along with teaching Spanish, Ugarte is the Middlebush professor of romance languages in the department of romance languages and literatures.
When Schatz was introduced, Ugarte said, "I have one question for this man: Where is my money?"
Schatz laughed, offered his congratulations and his thanks on behalf of the Kemper Foundation and Commerce Bank for Ugarte's excellence in teaching. He then pulled a sealed envelope from his breast pocket and presented Ugarte with a $10,000 award.
A shocked Ugarte covered his mouth, turned toward the blackboard and, amid his class's laughter and cheers, said to Schatz, "Oh my God. I was joking!"
Ugarte thanked Deaton, Schatz and the rest of the guests in his classroom and called the presenters "good sirs" in Spanish.
Ugarte said he didn't know what to say in response to the award, but offered to the guests in his classroom, "If you want to stick around for a great lesson, you are more than welcome."