Economics professor surprised with $5,000 award during lecture

The award is given to top professors in the Department of Economics, in order to honor the legacy of former professor of economics Walter Johnson, who taught at MU for 33 years.
George Chikhladze’s colleagues present him with the $5,000 Walter Johnson Award for Teaching Excellence on August 29, 2019 Courtesy of Twitter via @MizzouEcon

When a group of his colleagues and former TAs walked into his 11 a.m. Principles of Macroeconomics class on Thursday, Aug. 29, Economics professor George Chikhladze braced himself for the worst.

“It was just a very big surprise ⁠— my first thought was, ‘I’m in trouble,’” Chikhladze said.

However, what actually happened was nothing like what he expected. Chikhladze’s colleagues presented him with the Walter Johnson Award for Teaching Excellence, a $5,000 gift that is given to professors that the Department of Economics deems exceptional.

“Class kind of just stopped,” Chikhladze said. “They talked about the award and talked about me, and my entire class started clapping. And that was it. I was very excited, very honored, and very shocked.”

The award comes from the larger Walter L. Johnson Opportunities for Excellence Fund, an expected $25,000 endowment which “provides resources for scholarships, program support, faculty development and more,” according to the Mizzou Give Direct website. Walter L. Johnson was an economics professor emeritus at MU from 1965 until 1998 and taught over 40,000 students during his career. The fund honors his tenure at the university.

“I didn’t know that I had been nominated until I won the award; I had absolutely no idea,” Chikhladze said. “But apparently the department chair had sent out an email telling everyone ‘this is the award, just don't tell George, because we're going to surprise [him]’ ⁠— everyone knew but me.”

Ph.D. candidate Lonnie Hofmann worked under Chikhladze as a head teaching assistant for his Money, Banking and Financial Markets course during the 2018-19 school year and as a TA the year prior.

“Normally [Chikhladze] is not flustered at all, and he’s very in control,” Hofmann said. “So to see him get a little bit flustered because he had no idea what was going on was pretty great.”

Hofmann feels that no one is more deserving of the award than Chikhladze.

“He’s a very personable, approachable guy and he always puts his students first,” Hofmann said. “He’s always available for office hours and tries to make his subjects interesting and appealing to the students. He treats the people he works with really well.”

Chikhladze echoes this sentiment in his day-to-day work, emphasizing connections with his students that extend far past one semester-long course.

“We have several in-class exercises, and I have a lot of real-life examples from my own life,” Chikhladze said. “It’s about seeing their faces and then seeing that, oh, it’s clicking for them and they’re understanding it.”

Chikhladze says that he loves his job because he is able to help students grow.

“[I love] hearing the success stories of students who have graduated,” Chikhladze said. “Some students keep in touch with me or even just the department, and I hear about their great careers or the graduate programs they’re in.”

Hofmann is glad that Chikhladze is being recognized for all the time that he puts into his work.

“It is just sort of gratifying to know that [...] people are noticing the work you’re doing,” Hofmann said. “I know he works really hard, like balancing all these different classes and still putting in the same amount of effort into all of them. It’s a cool thing to have people acknowledge the work you’re doing.”

Edited by Laura Evans | levans@themaneater.com

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