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Aug. 18 2006
Contact: Jackie Hosey, University Relations, (785) 864-8858.

Seven more KU professors receive Kemper awards from Surprise Patrol

LAWRENCE — Seven more University of Kansas professors received good news today when the “Surprise Patrol” awarded them with $5,000 checks and the honor of being W.T. Kemper Fellowship winners.

The patrol, led by Provost and Executive Vice Chancellor Richard Lariviere, visited university classrooms for the second consecutive day to continue the annual tradition.

In all, 20 professors will be honored and $100,000 distributed as part of the Kemper awards this year. The patrol will hand out awards to additional unsuspecting professors Monday, Aug. 21.

The W.T. Kemper Fellowships for Teaching Excellence recognize outstanding teachers and advisers at KU as determined by a seven-member selection committee. Now in their 11th year, the awards are supported by $650,000 in gifts from the William T. Kemper Foundation (Commerce Bank, trustee) and $650,000 in matching funds from KU Endowment.

The William T. Kemper Foundation was established in 1989 after Kemper’s death. The foundation is dedicated to continuing Kemper’s lifelong interest in improving the human condition and quality of life. The foundation supports Midwest communities and concentrates on initiatives in education, health and human services, civic improvements and the arts.

Today’s winners were:

Matthew Buechner, associate professor of molecular biosciences
Michael S. Engel, associate professor of ecology and evolutionary biology
Thomas Lorenz, professor of English (Lorenz received his award Thursday night)
James H. Mielke, professor of anthropology
William D. Picking, associate professor of molecular biosciences
Judy Wu, professor of physics
Sara Wilson, assistant professor of mechanical engineering

Recipient bios:

Matthew Buechner, associate professor of molecular biosciences
Buechner has been nominated by senior biology majors as a favorite teacher every year since his first year at KU in 1998. Buechner has trained students at every level — from high school to postdoctoral — in his laboratory. Instead of multiple-choice exams, even in large classes, he gives written tests in a variety of forms every Friday, believing that is how students learn best. Buechner says he strives to be “rigorous but fair, helpful, understanding and fun.” One student said, “When Dr. Buechner gets in front of a class, you can really tell that he loves teaching what he teaches. His excitement and enthusiasm for the subject matter are contagious and spread to his students like a biosafety level four pathogenic bacteria.”

Michael S. Engel, associate professor of ecology and evolutionary biology
Engel has taught at KU for six years and thinks good instruction comes from a classroom environment that is enjoyable and comfortable for his students. Engel’s appointment in the department is half time, with the other half in the Natural History Museum and Biodiversity Research Center. Although his role as an instructor is only 20 percent of his responsibilities, Engel says it represents the vast majority of his focus and energies. With student comments such as “Michael was honestly one of the best instructors I have ever had, and I’ve been in school a long time!” and “I would give this professor a raise,” that is not hard to believe.

Tom Lorenz, professor of English
Lorenz says his top priority during his 20 years of teaching creative writing at KU has been to help students develop their own writing style and voice and to learn what they do best. Lorenz possesses a nurturing, encouraging manner in his classes and writing workshops. He has also devoted himself to the development of the graduate program for creative writing and is the go-to adviser for any student with questions about creative writing at KU. One student called his teaching style “simply brilliant.”

James H. Mielke, professor of anthropology
Mielke says he strives to take risks and inspire interest in his students. In his introductory anthropology class, there are assignments such as 48-hour journals of all behaviors of the student. Mielke’s teaching practice of having his students look at their behavior objectively helps them understand themselves and how they fit in to the complete human experience. He is known to display a quiet confidence when dealing with controversial and sensitive issues such as evolution. One student says, “This is a fantastic, curiosity-inspiring class that should probably be required for all majors.”

William D. Picking, associate professor of molecular biosciences
Picking says he considers his training, expertise and experiences largely wasted if not made available to help others at KU. Although Picking contributes a great deal of talent to his research in microbiology, his instruction and career guidance to students has inspired many. Picking says teamwork is a main goal in his laboratory classes. “No one student or student project is an island in my laboratory. All work is for the good of the whole.”

Judy Wu, professor of physics
Wu, who was hired by KU directly from graduate school 12 years ago, has a passion for teaching that was evident early in her career. In the past 10 years, Wu has mentored more graduate students than any other member of the department, as well as a large number of undergraduates. Wu says she sums up her teaching philosophy in the phrase “Passing my passion for science on to the next generation.” With Wu’s deep involvement in physics education on the graduate, undergraduate, secondary and elementary levels in the community, her passion is easy to see.

Sara Wilson, assistant professor of mechanical engineering
Wilson, who has been at KU for five years, says she understands each student is unique and tries to understand their distinct abilities and hurdles to maximize the learning experience. Wilson also understands that while students may begin their studies in mechanical engineering for one reason, that reason and career goal will evolve over their college career. “I make it a point to talk to students about these goals and find ways to encourage them,” she says.

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