2020 Kemper Award-winners lead students to success

Five MU professors use hands-on learning and tight bonds to build a positive environment for student learning.

In late August, MU announced the winners of the Kemper Fellowship Award, a peer-nominated honor received by five professors for their excellence in teaching.

MU Professors Miriam Barquero-Molina, Libby Cowgill, Craig Kluever, Daryl Smith and Angie Zapata received the award. Usually announced in the spring, the fellowships were postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Cowgill, a professor of anthropology, said she didn’t know when or if the awards would be announced because of the pandemic. Many professors she knew sent in multiple applications over the years before they won, so Cowgill said she had not expected to win her first year sending in an application.

“It’s an overwhelming honor,” Cowgill said. “It’s something I’ve known about for years.”

Cowgill also said she sometimes meets with incoming freshmen for Summer Welcome, and recommends they enroll in a class with a Kemper award winner. She said this made her win even more shocking.

“It’s a huge treat to be in that crowd of people that I have been recommending to students for years now,” Cowgill said.

Barquero-Molina, a professor of geological studies, also was honored at receiving the award.

“The Kemper Fellowship Award is probably the most revered teaching award on our campus,” Barquero-Molina said. “It’s a huge thing. It’s a humbling experience. When you have people put you up for an award like this and take a look at your teaching career in such a positive way, it’s a deep honor.”

Students praised the Kemper winners for using real-world examples in their teaching and promoting a hands-on learning style. Kluever, a professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering, said he tries to improve his classes by listening to feedback.

“I hear that from students,” Kluever said. “‘I understood what you were trying to teach me in this class. You care that I understand this material.”

Through experiential learning, students are not only better prepared for their careers after college, but also able to function outside of their comfort zone. In the field of geology, Barquero-Molina emphasized the importance of students seeing their topic of study in action.

“For me, that is the most significant part of the teaching that I do in geology,” Barquero-Molina said. “That is the setting where I am at my best, and also the studying where I think, as teachers, we can do the most; we can make the biggest difference.”

Cowgill has traveled the world by using her teaching style of learning by doing. Immersing herself in different cultures, she said the relevance of her career is more important than ever.

“We are looking at a world right now where we are moving into a global sphere,” Cowgill said. “We’re having people of different backgrounds, different cultures, different geographic locations migrate to our country. We are this melting pot of both biological and cultural diversity and anthropology has a very firm place in that.”

Promoting experiential learning is an important teaching method, but Smith, a professor in management, believes supporting his students is also important for their success.

“I think students are successful when they know someone is cheering for them: that someone cares for them and has their back — someone who wants the best for them,” Smith said. “I would like to think that in my work I am able to do that. Whatever they set their sights on, their goals, their ambitions — they can absolutely achieve them.”

Kluever agreed that the presence of his teachers played a large role in his success.

“I think about what my advisor did for me and how he helped me get this job,” Kluever said. “Certainly, everyone has help within their professional careers and their lives. Nobody just completely does it on their own.”

The Kemper fellows use effective teaching methods that prepare their students to be successful, but their involvement in student lives also plays a role in their students' success. Having received his bachelor’s degree from MU, Smith said he has strong ties to the university.

“I love what I do now,” Smith said. “I grew up here in Columbia, Missouri. I’m passionate about this university and the students that I’m able to work with.”

Edited by Lucy Caile | lcaile@themaneater.com

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