COLUMBIA — Five MU professors started their week $10,000 richer after Chancellor R. Bowen Loftin surprised them Monday with the 2014 William T. Kemper Fellowship for Teaching Excellence.
The annual award recognizes outstanding teachers at MU. This year's recipients were:
- John Bennett, an associate professor in the Trulaske College of Business.
- Ann Harrell, an associate professor of voice in the School of Music.
- Jeff Krug, an assistant teaching professor of physical therapy in the College of Health Sciences.
- Leigh Neier, an assistant teaching professor in the College of Education.
- Bryon Wiegand, an associate professor of animal science in the College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources.
The educators' colleagues nominated about 20 people for the award. All the nominees knew they were in the running, but none of them knew the winners until administrators walked into their classrooms.
Commerce Bank Chairman Jim Schatz presented the educators with their awards. The Kemper Fellowship, which was established in 1991 with a $500,000 donation, is named after the Kansas City civic leader who graduated from MU in 1926.
“The most rewarding part," Schatz said, "is the spontaneous reaction of the students. You know you’ve made a good choice when the students, without being prompted, react enthusiastically.”
John Bennett could barely hold back his tears as Schatz presented him the award at the start of his marketing class. Cameras flashed and students rose from their seats to give him a standing ovation.
“I’m not normally speechless,” Bennett said, his voice wavering. “I’m greatly moved. This is not something I expected.”
Bennett is "a star among stars," said Joan Gabel, the dean of the Trulaske College of Business. “The students’ response just proves how lucky we are to have him.”
Ann Harrell was finishing a private voice lesson with her student Melissa Nichols when Loftin arrived.
“This has been a wonderful environment to work in,” Harrell said as dozens of her colleagues crammed into the hall outside her office to congratulate her.
“My students have been incredible,” she added.
Administrators told Nichols not to cancel her lesson, even though she had been feeling a little sick, so Harrell would be in her office. Nichols told them not to worry — it would take more than a cold to make her miss one of Harrell's lessons.
"You can just sit and talk with her," Nichols said. “She makes each and every one of us feel special.”
Jeff Krug was poised to give a quiz to his clinical pathophysiology students when chaos broke out.
As Loftin and his posse strolled into Krug's classroom, his students started blowing noisemakers and cheering. A few of his students wiped tears from their eyes when Krug thanked the class.
“Ultimately, you guys make it great to come to work everyday,” he said.
In addition to his passion for teaching, Krug was recognized for establishing PhysZOU, a pro bono physical therapy clinic that combines learning with real-life clinical experience.
Leigh Neier expected the Monday after spring break to be a quiet one.
When the chancellor led a parade of businessmen, cameras, and reporters into her classroom, her surprise showed all over her face.
"I have the best job in the entire world," she said, laughing. "Thank you, from the bottom of my pounding heart."
Neier's reputation for keeping in touch with her students as they look for internships and jobs won her a nomination for the award. Her students' testimonies clinched it for her.
Wiegand kept his cool when Loftin surprised him during class, but he didn't quite know what to say.
"I very rarely have a shortage for words," he said. "But I'm speechless."
When Schatz told him he won $10,000, a hush fell over the room, followed by a round of applause.
Wiegand founded MU's Meat Science Research program and supervises MU's Meat Judging Team. He was also instrumental in establishing JudgingPro, a multimedia teaching tool for livestock judges.
"It is his friendship and advising, however, that set him apart from most other exceptional educators," said graduate student Claire Ohman, according to a media release.