COLUMBIA — Three MU professors have been nominated for the U.S. Professor of the Year award.
MU faculty nominated John Adams, professor and chair of chemistry, Anthony Lupo, professor and chair of atmospheric science, and Wendy Sims, professor and director of music education. In order to qualify, nominees at MU must have previously received a teaching award.
Any undergraduate institute in the United States can nominate up to three professors. Nominees compete with their peers in one of four categories in a tiered judging process, and the Carnegie Foundation ultimately selects the four national winners. The foundation also chooses numerous state-level winners.
Pam Russell, spokeswoman for the U.S. Professors of the Year Awards Program, said there are more than 300 nominees this year.
The Council for Advancement and Support of Education and the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching sponsor the program, which is the only national program to recognize excellence in undergraduate teaching and mentoring.
According to the program's website, each national winner receives $5,000 and an all-expense paid trip to Washington, D.C. for the awards celebration.
Anthony Lupo has been obsessed with weather since he was 7. That obsession led him to MU and ultimately to a nomination for U.S. Professor of the Year.
“I was very humbled by the fact that my colleagues were good enough to nominate me,” he said.
Lupo, 44, has taught in the Department of Soil, Environmental and Atmospheric Sciences for the past 13 years and became department chair in 2008. He said he enjoys seeing students learn, but he does not consider himself a great teacher.
Dan Ebner, a junior meteorology major, disagreed. Ebner took a climate course with Lupo, whom he referred to as one of the smartest people he has ever met. Ebner said he would have nominated Lupo for professor of the year if he could.
“I think he deserves it 100 percent,” Ebner said. “You only hear good things about him from everybody.”
Lupo tried doing meteorology on television as an undergraduate but said he “failed miserably.” He switched gears and applied for a job with the National Weather Service.
He got the job at the same time he was accepted for graduate school. With his wife’s encouragement, Lupo decided to give graduate school a try.
“At the time, I didn’t think I had what it took to get a Ph.D. or a master’s,” he said.
Lupo proved himself wrong. In 1991, he received his master’s in atmospheric science at Purdue University and went on to earn his doctorate from Purdue in 1995.
The Auburn, N.Y., native then worked as a postdoctoral research associate at the State University of New York in Albany until 1997.
Lupo has been married to Allison Lupo for 22 years and has three daughters. He plays softball in a Columbia recreational league and enjoys following “almost any sport.” His favorite, though, is football.
“I’m a San Diego Chargers fan,” he said. “It comes from my love of weather because that team has a lightning bolt as their emblem.”
Lupo has several accolades to his credit, including:
- Fulbright Research Scholar from 2003 to 2004 in Moscow.
- As part of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, he shares the Nobel Peace Prize with former Vice President Al Gore.
- The Kemper Teaching Award, the highest award possible for a Missouri college teacher, in 2008.
“I really enjoy what I do. I wouldn’t trade it in for anything,” Lupo said. “When you get up every morning and you don’t mind going to work, that’s the best way to be.”
Even after winning a number of teaching awards in his 29 years teaching at MU, John Adams said he is always surprised and pleased about nominations such as the one for the professor of the year.
Adams, a professor and associate chair for undergraduate studies in the Department of Chemistry, is the longest-serving faculty member at the department.
He said he believes this year’s recognition is a result of his passion for teaching.
“I put efforts into teaching, and recognition is secondary,” Adams said. Adams said he continues to develop his teaching methods to reflect new materials as often as he can. He still learns new material even when he teaches introductory classes, he said.
“I always like trying new things,” Adams said. He has been recording his lectures for students to view on the web since 2009.
His students remember him as a passionate professor.
“He explains the materials very thoroughly,” said Jee Kim, a former student. Kim added that he especially liked the review sessions Adams provided every week and his online lectures.
Adams has been interested in science since he was in high school. He said he liked the fundamental concepts of chemistry and especially enjoyed observing the interactions of particles.
By the time he graduated from high school in the early '70s, he said many people expected “good students” to become scientists, which was the path he chose.
His vague desire to be a scientist became more specific after spending a semester at the University of Missouri-Rolla, now called the Missouri University of Science and Technology, with his chemistry professor, Ken Robertson. Adams decided to become a professor and specialize in physical chemistry as Robertson did.
Adams said Robertson had a big impact on his life in many ways.
“His biggest influence was showing me a career option that I had not previously considered,” Adams said. After graduating from college, he said he was accustomed to achieving goals without much adversity. He said he was on the right track and very fortunate.
Adams received his Ph.D. from the University of California in 1979 and started teaching at MU in 1981.
While he was on sabbatical from MU at Brown University, he met another chemist, Carol A. Deakyne, and they married in 1991.
Deakyne was a faculty member at Eastern Illinois University. Adams and Deakyne have lived apart during academic years for more than half of their marriage.
Deakyne has been an associate professor in MU's chemistry department since 2003. Her office is now located right next to Adams’. Recently, they began collaborating on research projects.
“We each certainly understand what is involved in being a faculty member, both the time constraints and responsibilities,” Adams said. “We also enjoy doing things outside of our professions as well, such as traveling(and) visiting museums.”
In addition to conducting research, Adams also enjoys cooking, riding bikes and reading books.
Adams said that riding a bike on the MKT Trail for six miles to school is good exercise, and he'd like to continue the practice as long as the weather allows.
He said those hours he spends outside class are mainly for his self-development for his students.
He always enjoys working with students, which brings another generation of scientists, Adams said.
Adams said he has no regrets about choosing to become a professor instead of working in the private sector.
“If I would go back, I would do the same thing,” he said.
During 29 years of teaching, he has received several teaching awards, including:
- AMOCO Foundation Undergraduate Teaching Award in 1987.
- Excellence in Advising Award.
- Advisors Forum & Office at the Provost in 2004.
- President’s Award for Outstanding Teaching.
- University of Missouri System-wide award in 2009.
- Curator’s Teaching Professorship in 2009.
- Governor’s Award for Excellence in Teaching in 2009.
Wendy Sims, a professor of music and director of music education, said she loves going to school every day even after 25 years of college teaching.
“I don’t usually say I’m going to work,” Sims said. “I say I’m going to school.”
Sims was surprised to learn she was selected as a nominee for the U.S Professor of the Year Award.
“I feel privileged to be nominated because there are so many wonderful professors here,” Sims said.
Sims said prizes aren’t what motivates her to continue teaching. “I’m not going to work hard because I might get an award.”
Sims said she has loved teaching since she was in kindergarten, playing teacher and teaching her friends their ABCs. She said it’s always a pleasure to see “the light bulb go on when people learn and do something new.”
During high school, Sims sang and accompanied the choir on piano. She said that’s when she wanted a career teaching music. Because she also enjoys research, she decided to become a professor.
“It was a perfect combination for me,” Sims said.
Sims came to MU in 1985 after teaching music in a Cleveland-area elementary school. She earned her doctorate in music education at Florida State University. With her specialty in elementary and early childhood music education, she teaches classes for undergraduates preparing to be music teachers. She also teaches research classes for graduate and doctoral students.
In a recommendation letter to the associate dean of MU College of Education, former student Jordan Black wrote that Sims is a devoted teacher.
“Dr. Sims is obviously a professor who wants to help each and every one of her students succeed both in and after college,” Black said.
Her students are as young as one year of age. She is a volunteer teacher for two preschool classes and one toddler class each week at MU’s Child Development Laboratory. There, she plays guitar and sings with the kids.
“I do that because it’s fun,” Sims said. “I also get research ideas from the kids by trying out new materials. It’s like a laboratory in my work.”
For Sims, teaching is fascinating because every day and every student is different. She continues to learn from students, from reading and from watching preschoolers interact.
She believes music is important because it enhances children’s lives and gives them opportunities to succeed when they lack special talents in other areas. They grow by continuing to practice music toward long-term goals, she added.
“Dr. Sims takes a special interest in making sure her future music educators reach young children,” Black wrote in the letter.
In addition to teaching, Sims has worked as an editor for the Journal of Research in Music Education, the primary research journal in music education. During her free time, she enjoys traveling and reading. Her 14-year-old daughter, who is involved in music and other activities, also keeps her busy.
She has won a number of awards since teaching at MU. They include:
- The Purple Chalk Teaching Award from the College of Arts and Science in 1991.
- The Governor's Award for Teaching Excellence in 1993.
- The College of Education Pillar of Excellence in Teaching Award in 2004.
- The Distinguished Service Award from the College of Human Environmental Science in 2006.
- The Honorary Alumni Award from the College of Education Alumni Board in 2009.
Sims encourages students pursuing careers in music education that their hard work will pay off. “They are really fortunate to be going into a job where they get to make music every day.”