Office of the President
Remarks by UW System President Kevin P. Reilly
Friday, October 21, 2005
Good afternoon. Id like to welcome all of you to the 2005 Alliant Energy Underkofler Excellence in Teaching Awards ceremony.
Few of my responsibilities as president are as pleasurable as the opportunity to recognize the four teachers we honor today with the 2005 Underkofler Excellence in Teaching Awards. These outstanding faculty and academic staff show remarkable dedication to teaching, and their abilities to inspire students exemplify the best values of the University of Wisconsin System. Students have testified that these individuals not only motivate academic achievement, but also serve as role models well beyond the walls of the classroom. These teachers have the capacity to transform lives, and to help students become a part of something larger whether that something is a community of learners, an academic discipline, or the world outside the academy.
I want to begin by thanking Alliant Energy for the many years of support for excellent teaching. We have the good fortune today to have with us the very man whose service to Wisconsin inspired these awards: Mr. James Underkofler. Back in 1991, Erroll Davis, Chief Executive Officer of Wisconsin Power & Light Holdings (now Alliant Energy) and a UW System Regent at the time, created the awards to recognize outstanding teachers at UW System institutions within the companys service area. The awards were named for, and are given in honor of, Mr. Underkofler, who retired as a senior executive with the company in 1990. The awards pay tribute to Mr. Underkofler's enduring interest in encouraging and promoting undergraduate teaching excellence, and we are deeply appreciative for that support. Mr. Underkofler, it is an honor to have you with us today.
Alliant Energy is further represented today by Dundeana Doyle, Vice President for Strategy and Risk. Were glad you could join us today as well.
The Underkofler awards are administered by the UW System Office of Professional and Instructional Development. Candidates are nominated by their home institutions, and are ultimately selected by a System committee of faculty and teaching academic staff. Id also like to thank UW Systems Donna Silver, Rebecca Karoff, Lisa Kornetsky, and their colleagues for coordinating the awards, and todays ceremony.
As in the past, this years award winners represent a diversity of disciplines, backgrounds, career stages, and pedagogical approaches, but they all place the learning of their students at the core of what they do, and they do it well.
The first recipient of the Alliant Energy Underkofler Award we honor today is Dr. Karl Byrand, Assistant Professor of Geography at UW-Sheboygan, one of our 13 freshman-sophomore UW Colleges.
Professor Byrand joined the UW Colleges Department of Geography and the Sheboygan faculty in 2000, having completed his Ph.D. in Geography from the University of Maryland-College Park in 1999. Hes made a remarkable impact during the short time he has been at UW-Sheboygan. Upon his arrival, he applied for, and received, a $36,000 grant to introduce technology into the campus geography program, modernizing the lab his students use, and enabling them to work with software systems that have become essential to the discipline and the workplace. In 2004, he was chosen as his campuss "Teacher of the Year." While Karl has authored a number of textbook materials, a look at the panels he organizes for the Association of American Geographers reveals that his sense of scholarly interest is focused on students, and the quality of their learning. Recent presentations at association conferences have included the topics "Its Summer Because Were Closer to the Sun: Common Misconceptions in Physical Geography," and "What Is This Grad School Thing, Anyway?: Preparing Undergraduates."
Professor Byrands goal is, in his own words, to, quote, "help my students recognize that geography has direct implications for their lives and the unfolding of their future," and "that their learning should go beyond the classroom walls," end quote."
Professor Byrand demonstrates again and again his commitment to meeting students where they are, and guiding them toward the next phase of their lives, whatever it might be, armed with knowledge, critical thinking, and the desire to be lifelong learners. One student writes, "After a semester of being shuffled among four advisors, I was beginning to feel like college wasnt for me. Then I took a geography class with Dr. Karl Byrand." The change in the students attitude about college was instantaneous; through Professor Byrand she found an academic worldnot to mention the world of geographyto which she belonged.
Several other students also say that though they enrolled in Karls class merely to fulfill a degree requirement, they ended up discovering a whole new world, opened up to them by an instructor who inspired and motivated them as never before. Im certainly inspired, and very pleased to introduce to you Professor Karl Byrand.
Our second 2005 Underkofler winner is Larry Edgerton, Faculty Associate in the Academic Advancement Program and the Department of English at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Dr. Edgerton has taught on the UW-Madison campus for more than 20 years, having earned his Ph.D. from the English Department in 1983. He is a published poet, a writer of fiction and screenplays, and has authored two writing-skills textbooks called What We Owe the Reader: The Bare Bones of Good Writing and The Editing Book: 101 Problems & Solutions.
Larrys two books have become important texts in the courses he teaches to at-risk students in the Academic Advancement Program, a program that helps students of color and first-generation college students navigate their first years of college. He also teaching in the Summer Collegiate Experience bridge program, designed for at-risk students before they enroll at Madison as freshmen.
Dr. Edgertons own words give you a sense of the classroom experience he creates for his students: Quote, "Learning works best," he writes, "when students dont feel like students, and when they dont see me as an arbitrary figure of authority. Im not suggesting that my experience and education have no relevance; rather, that my experience and education dont automatically rule out alternative readings of the text. I like students to call me by the first name, to send me long emails filled with philosophy and speculation, to come by my office often, to meet me for coffee. I want to create a classroom whose atmosphere says, were all in this together. A democratic classroom inspires a productive questioning of authority, new ways of tackling old problems." Did I mention that he graduated from UC-Berkeley in the early 70s?
But dont mistake a democratic classroom for a lack of rigor. Students may enter his Summer Collegiate or his English 100 classes initially under-prepared for college, but they do not leave that way. In fact, the students who leave English 100 as critical thinkers and accomplished writers dont seem to leave Dr. Edgerton at all. They continue to seek him out for office hours, and they flock to him as their professor of choice for independent studies and mentoring. Students credit Dr. Edgerton with not only keeping them in school, but with guiding them toward accomplishing academic goals beyond their wildest dreams.
Consider the student who was all set to drop out but, after being taken under Dr. Edgertons wing, is now a mentor for the Undergraduate Research Scholars program, a double major in Spanish and English, has a 3.7 GPA, and is headed to law school to pursue a career in human rights. Consider the student who recently moved to Madison from Bosnia, uprooted culturally and academically, who under Dr. Edgertons tutelage now carries a 3.75 GPA, and is working on reading and translating Dostoyevsky from English to Serbian, and then back to English!
With his dedication to students and the time and energy he has invested in them over 20 years, Dr. Edgerton clearly has the hallmarks of a truly remarkable teacher. Im very pleased to introduce Dr. Larry Edgerton.
Our third Underkofler recipient to be honored today is Marc Shelstrom, Professor of Industrial Studies, Building Construction Management, and Technology Education at the University of Wisconsin-Platteville. Dr. Shelstrom arrived at UW-Platteville in 1995 and a mere 10 years later, is a full professor. He has a Ph.D. in Industrial Education and Technology from Iowa State University.
Let me begin by quoting Professor Shelstrom himself, and then Ill tell you what he does, because its a bit unusual! He writes, quote, "I encourage students to realize that their education does not stop with graduation but is a continuous process all throughout their lives. Through positive reinforcement, my students are encouraged to take pride in themselves and in the work that they do, to be honest and hardworking, and to commit themselves to excellence in both their personal lives and their careers," end quote.
The Dean of his College, Duane Ford (who I believe is in the room), praises Dr. Shelstrom because he, quote, "possesses the key element that drives all outstanding teachers, that is, he loves his students and the work inherent in being a faculty member. For him, all decisions are made within the context of what is best for his students," end quote.
Professor Shelstroms unusual and exemplary methods include having his students build houses as part of their degree program! He has revised the curriculum in the Building Construction Management Program to include this capstone or perhaps I should say, cornerstone experience, and it is a tribute to his innovation and commitment to students.
Professor Shelstroms students end their degree program by managing a building construction project from start to finish. The program has constructed a home every year since 2001, and it is the students who manage every detail, including the $200,000 - $300,000 budget. This is the culmination of their classroom learning but it is moved, well, outside, very much into the real world, not the MTV version, but the world we all live in. Im pleased to introduce the professor whom students call "Doc" Professor Marc Shelstrom.
Last but not least, let me introduce the fourth Underkofler Award recipient for 2005, Scott Walter, a newly tenured Associate Professor of Biological Sciences, at the University of Wisconsin-Richland. Professor Walter earned his Ph.D. in Wildlife Ecology in 1999 from UW-Madison. During his studies, he participated in graduate-student initiated discussions on "Teaching Biology at the University Level." Those opened up the world of teaching to him, and when Scott arrived at UW-Richland in 1999, he hit the ground running, teaching four courses a semester, including two labor-intensive lab sections. This impressive start out of the blocks earned him his campuss "Roadrunner of the Year" Award in 2003, given annually for excellence in teaching and service to the campus community.
And what is the nature of that excellence? By all accounts, Professor Walter makes biology come alive for his students, and he does that quite literally! When teaching about foraging theory, for example, his students understand the theory by foraging for M & Ms in Dixie cups, akin to hummingbirds looking for nectar in flower patches. When explaining the anatomy of the Sub-phylum Chelicerata, he passes around a live tarantula! You get the idea! This is teaching with a bite to it!
By making learning experiential, Dr. Walter says, "students learn more than just terminology and process; they learn to appreciate biology for the wonderfully complex, but beautifully sensible, discipline that it is." Or, as one of his students quotes him saying on a daily basis, "This is the coolest thing in the world to learn about. I just love this subject."
One of Scotts former students writes of her struggle to reconcile her religious beliefs, and her growing interest in biology. Ill quote her at length, because her testimony is quite moving. She writes, quote, "Dr. Walter helped enable me to overcome one of the greatest challenges I faced early in college: trying to understand what questions science could, and could not, answer. I grew up in a small town, and my family and most of the people I knew did not believe in evolution. When I began college, I discovered that there was very good evidence for evolution, and this placed me in a position of extreme internal turmoil. I thought if I wanted to be a scientist, I had to find out the complete truth, right away, and be able to defend it against all arguments to the contrary. One day, I went to Dr. Walter and told him that I couldnt be a biologist after all, because I couldnt make up my mind about so many things, particularly evolution. Dr. Walter reminded me of the evidence for evolution. But then he told me that I didnt have to make up my mind right away on everything, because science isnt about proving answers, its a lifelong process of trying to better understand how the universe works. This was a pivotal moment in my life . . ." end quote.
Professor Walter did not question her faith, he did not question her questioning; instead, he reassured her that her questioning is important and appropriate, for it is that process that underpins science as much as anything else. The student went on to UW-Madison, where she graduated with a degree in biology last spring.
This was indeed a pivotal moment, the kind each of the extraordinary teachers in this room has effected. And this is a powerful reminder of the awesome responsibility that teachers have as they lead students on the search for knowledge. Professor Walters response is as good as it gets. Please join me in welcoming Professor Scott Walter.
That concludes todays presentation of the Alliant Energy Underkofler Excellence in Teaching Awards. I thank you all again for coming. David Starr Jordan, a former president of Stanford University, once said that "The best teacher is more important than the best study." Weve certainly seen evidence of that today. Please feel free to stay, enjoy the refreshments, and bask in the glow of these outstanding teachers. Thanks for listening. Have a good weekend.