The University recently announced six new Arthur F. Thurnau Professorships, a prestigious title granted to undergraduate professors who have shown excellence and innovation in undergraduate teaching.

In addition to carrying the title before their formal departmental listing, the professorship also provides each recipient with $20,000 to attend conferences, purchase books or procure equipment for ventures in their academic fields. The nominees were unanimously approved during the University’s Board of Regents meeting in February, and they will be officially recognized at the University’s Honors Convocation this month.

“This is the favorite thing we do all year,” University Provost Philip Hanlon said at the meeting. “The Thurnau professor is the highest honor the University can bestow on its staff and specifically recognize their contributions to undergraduate teaching.”

The winners of the professorships this year hail from a variety of departments. The six professors who will now carry the title are Joseph Bull, associate professor of biomedical engineering; Michael Haithcock, professor of music and Director of University Bands; Sadashi Inuzuka, professor of art; Bradford Orr, chair of the Department of Physics and professor of physics; Brian Porter-Szücs, professor of history, and Steve Skerlos, associate professor of mechanical engineering and associate professor of civil and environmental engineering.

All deans and department chairs from across the college are solicited for nominations for the award, Matthew Kaplan, managing director of the University’s Center for Research on Learning and Teaching — the department that coordinates the collection of selection materials for the professorship said. The center then forwards those materials to a rotating committee of current Thurnau Professors for review.

“What we’re trying to do is get as big a pool as possible,” Kaplan said. “(Also) a diverse pool in terms of faculty background and identity, discipline, and school and college.”

Kaplan added that the final selection of professors is determined by an evaluation on five main criteria points that include involvement in teaching, the professor’s innovation and excellence, and their positive impact on their students.

“It’s always a very difficult decision because these faculty who are nominated are the best faculty at the University,” Kaplan said.

Usually there are only five Thurnau Professorships awarded, but this year there were between 20 and 25 nominations and the committee approved six awards, Kaplan said.

Porter-Szücs said he was extremely honored to receive the award, though he suspected he may be the recipient of an honor prior to receiving the accolade.

“The challenge is they have to collect nominations, and letters of support for those nominations,” Porter-Szücs said. “The associate chair of the department asked me last December if I could identify some students who ‘like me,’ and who had good reactions to my teaching and my classes. I knew something was up, but I didn’t know exactly what.”

He added that the monetary award that accompanies the professorship would also help facilitate his writing of a survey course on the history of modern Poland.

“The most immediate use of some of the money is a trip to Poland in this coming summer to do some research,” Porter-Szücs said.

Haithcock, meanwhile, credited his time at Baylor University with helping him hone his teaching style. He said that the focus at Baylor was not on research, though it was certainly encouraged, but rather exemplary undergraduate teaching.

“It’s important what you say, but it’s more important that you’re listening to what the student is taking in,” Haithcock said.

Haithcock said one of the things that has allowed him to connect with students most is his time with the University Symphony Band, which allows him to foster individual relationships with students over multiple semesters.

“I wanted to be a great teacher because I respect the value of education. I think learning is the most exciting thing you can do,” Haithcock said. “Whether it’s my 3-year-old granddaughter or a 35-year-old doctoral student or an 18-year-old freshman or a 22-year-old senior, I get a great deal of pleasure watching people attach themselves to things that will help them evolve and grow.”

Haithcock also said the award money that accompanies the professorship will also facilitate his research and present new opportunities for students.

“One of the things I want to do is talk to my current set of students and see if there is computer or other equipment that might be good for everybody,” Haithcock said. “I think there’s some research things I’d like to do and a couple of important libraries I’d like to spend some time at.”

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.