Provost’s Outstanding Junior Faculty Teaching Award recipients emphasize collaborative learning

Three junior faculty members in the School of Medicine, the School of Health Professions and the Department of Learning, Teaching and Curriculum received the award.
Whitney Henderson, one of the winners of the 2019 Provost’s Outstanding Junior Faculty Teaching Award, is an occupational therapist and associate clinical professor in the School of Health Professions. Courtesy of MU School of Health Provisions

The three faculty who won this year’s Provost’s Outstanding Junior Faculty Teaching Award placed an emphasis on collaborative student-teacher relationships as the main reason for their success. The recipient announcements went out in the middle of September.

The award recognizes junior faculty for superior teaching and advising on MU’s campus. The winners are nominated by faculty, departments of schools and colleges through letters of recommendation from alumni and a list of the faculty’s teaching qualities.

The winners of the 2019 award are Cheryl Hill, Whitney Henderson and Mike Metz. Through conversations with all three recipients, an overarching message of gratitude and humility was present, as well as a prevalent love of their work and students.

Dr. Hill is a morphologist and anatomist as well as an assistant professor at the School of Medicine. When she first found out she won the award she was surprised, but also honored.

“It’s nice because it means that people appreciate what I’m trying to do here,” Hill said. “I’m really trying to help the students learn their anatomy because it is so important for their health and their future patient’s health, so I’m glad that they acknowledge that I’m trying my best to help them learn their anatomy.”

One-on-one relationships with the students are at the center of what Hill appreciates most about her work. She values getting to know students more in office hours and some extracurricular activities.

“I teach really large classes, so when they come into my office hours it’s great because they teach me stuff,” Hill said. “I learn things about injuries that I didn’t know about and random pop culture stuff — like they were helping me figure out Instagram last week.”

Whitney Henderson, another recipient of the award, shares this same appreciation of teachers learning from students. Henderson, an occupational therapist and associate clinical professor in the School of Health Professions, spoke of how the award is not only a gift to her, but a gift to everyone in her department.

“It’s an honor,” Henderson said. “I think it’s more for our department. I just like that our department is getting the recognition they deserve because they support me and our colleagues support me. It’s about our students who come to class every day excited to learn.”

It was late one Friday night when Henderson found out she won the award, and she spoke of being very grateful and humbled when it happened. She spoke fondly of watching students learn and grow from when they first enter the program to when they leave.

“Students step into our program, and they are very young and naive about what their profession is, and they are not sure if they’re gonna make it,” Henderson said. “But then they progress, and you see them develop into really awesome human beings and young professionals. They’re prepared to go out and do great things in practice and in society, so I think the growth is the biggest and most rewarding factor.”

The third recipient of the award, Mike Metz, assistant professor of English Education in the Department of Learning, Teaching and Curriculum, not only emphasized the importance of a strong relationship with the students, but also being able to learn from other faculty members as well.

“I think there is something important even at the undergraduate and graduate level that I’m still teaching people,” Metz said. “I’m teaching people some content, but I’m still teaching people. It’s that relationship that is the most important thing.”

All three teachers emphasized that learning is a collaborative process, and therefore the award should represent a celebration of the process and not solely their work. Their work is fulfilled each day through sharing knowledge and understanding the value of strong relationships among faculty members as well as students.

“The work that we do is that we teach teachers,” Metz said. “I think a lot of my colleagues are amazing teachers, and I’m learning from them all the time. So as an early faculty member, I think that’s nice, and I can look to my more senior faculty members as people that I’m learning from all the time too.”

Edited by Laura Evans | levans@themaneater.com

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