Skip redundant pieces
KU Home  :  KU News

2006 Kemper Awards

This year, the University of Kansas "Surprise Patrol" bestowed good news and $5,000 checks on 20 professors as part of the 2006 Kemper awards ceremonies to recognize outstanding teachers and advisers at the university.

The recipients of the W.T. Kemper Fellowships for Teaching Excellence are 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 the death of the Kansas City, Mo., banking executive and civic leader. The foundation supports Midwest communities and concentrates on initiatives in education, health and human services, civic improvements and the arts.

This year's honorees

Brown, right
J. Christopher Brown
assistant professor of geography and environmental studies

Brown has been teaching KU students for the past five years. "Learning is a social activity," Brown says, and he works hard to make students realize that they are part of a larger community, with the common goal of learning about the world and making it a better place. Brown aims to learn every student’s name each semester, even in classes as large as 200. Brown’s interest and energy for his courses are contagious to his students, one who comments, "(He is) by far the best instructor I have come across during my time at KU. His obvious passion and excitement radiates and is infectious to his students."

Buechner, right
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."

Engel, right
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.

Frayer, right
David Frayer
professor of anthropology

Frayer has been an instructor of courses involving human biological and behavioral evolution for 31 years. Frayer is recognized internationally as a leading researcher in Neanderthal studies. He has been called "selfless" as an instructor and an adviser, and consistently receives evaluations from students that recognize his commitment to instruction and caring. Says one student, "I am glad there are professors like Dr. Frayer in the world. They are rare, and we need more of them … someone who excels at teaching and advising and goes far beyond what is expected."

Friis, left
Lisa Friis
assistant professor of mechanical engineering

In her five years at KU, Friis has taught an array of courses and has worked diligently to improve her teaching techniques. Friis implements fresh approaches to her classes while showing students how to incorporate learned skills in their profession. Friis cites national teaching conferences as being enlightening and inspiring her to engage students in more active learning activities. As an adviser, Friis says she enjoys working with the student as a professional and teaching by example.

Bernard A. "Bud" Hirsch
professor of English

Hirsch has been an adviser and professor at KU for 30 years and is stepping down from his role as adviser this summer. Hirsch says his goal as a teacher is to provide means, occasion and encouragement for students to realize their own power of imagination and intellect and techniques with which to explore and express them effectively. Hirsch teaches American Indian literature as well as British Romantic poetry and advises English undergraduates. He says his job is not only to provide students with a good KU experience but also to help them live a fulfilling and productive life. As a student says, "He showed that in many ways every poem can be and is about life."

Lopez, right
Shane J. Lopez
associate professor of the counseling psychology program, department of psychology and research in education

Lopez says the greatest compliment he has received from a student was simply that his class made her think. Lopez, who has taught at KU since 1998, says he wants his teaching philosophy and techniques to set the stage to teach critical thinking about human behavior. Lopez is also a mentor for graduates and new professionals, his most valued role, he says, because he is able to instill students' confidence in their abilities in research and practice.

Lorenz, right
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."

Manolescu, right
Beth Manolescu
associate professor of communication studies

A colleague of Manolescu's once joked that teaching with her could be alonely experience because all of the students wanted to see Manolescu. Though her main goal for her students is to help them develop the knowledge and skills to become active citizens, she specializes her classes to help each person learn to their optimum. For example, she organizes department-level activities such as writing workshops. One student says that Manolescu "was so encouraging, motivating and competent that coming to class was a treat."

Mielke, right
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."

Picking, left
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."

Sereno, left
Joan A. Sereno
associate professor of linguistics

In Sereno's nine years at KU, she has been an example of flexibility. Sereno has taught classes that range from introductory undergraduate to higher-level graduate. Sereno says this speaks to the nature of her teaching interests, which span wide. She realizes one of her courses may be a student's only exposure to linguistics, so she combines instruction of facts with critical thinking exercises in order to integrate linguistic concepts. Sereno is rigorous yet approachable to students, whose most common remark is how much knowledge they gain from her.

Steele, right
Ric G. Steele
associate professor of psychology and applied behavioral sciences

Steele is involved in almost all areas of the child psychology department at KU. An instructor for six years, Steele uses his interactive personality to maximize learning potential for students. He instructs classes from the undergraduate level to individual supervision and instruction of clinical graduate students. Overall, he has the hope of teaching each student to be an informed consumer and co-creator of psychological science. "He always seems interested in students' specific interests and in helping them achieve their professional goals," says one student.

Westerbeke, left
William E. Westerbeke
professor of law

Westerbeke is likely to be seen visiting, joking and laughing with students in the hallways of Green Hall between classes. As one student says, "He has a first-class presence." He is said to bring a feeling of warmth to KU, where he has taught for 32 years. Westerbeke says he finds that he uses teaching methods that impressed him as a student: the use of a smile and a sense of humor rather than intimidation. His role does not end on graduation day but extends to the training of judges, lawyers and legislators.

Wilson, left
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.

Wolf-Wendel, left
Lisa Wolf-Wendel
associate professor of higher education

Wolf-Wendel teaches only graduate students, thus, her excellence as a teacher is also reflected in her role as an academic program coordinator and as an adviser. One of her main goals is teaching students how to understand research. Wolf-Wendel was a part of developing a partnership called "academic mission/student success" that brings together research and practice for students. This helps ensure that students can head into their jobs knowing they are well prepared.

Wu, left
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.