Three Curator’s Distinguished Professor award winners talk about their careers

The distinguished professor award is given out by the UM System to honor excellence in teaching in higher education.

CORRECTION: A previous version of this story incorrectly identified Douglas Randall as the previous coordinator of the IPG and Vicki Bryan as the current coordinator. The story has been updated to correctly identify Robert Sharp as the current director. The Maneater regrets these errors.

MU has awarded seven professors from across different fields of study with the Curator’s Distinguished Professor award.

The award was established in 1968 and is given out by the Office of Academic Affairs.

“These prestigious positions are bestowed only upon outstanding scholars with established reputations,” according to the UM System website. “Therefore, it is expected that there will be few such appointments.”

The winners, announced on Feb. 6, were mathematics professor Aleksandr Koldobskiy, chemistry professor Arthur Suits, plant sciences professor Robert Sharp, biological sciences professor Chris Pires, psychological sciences professor Wendy Slutske, political science professor William Horner and educational professor Keith Herman.

The Maneater had the opportunity to speak with three of the award winners: Horner, Koldobskiy and Sharp.

William Horner - Political Science

Horner began teaching in higher education in 1999 at Lake Superior State University in the Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. After stops at the University of Texas at Austin and Arizona State University, Horner arrived at MU in 2001. He has now been teaching MU students political science for over 18 years.

Horner said that he is truly honored by the award, and he is deeply thankful for his colleagues who wrote letters nominating him and for MU for selecting him as a distinguished professor.

“But mostly, I'm honored by the fact that I get to work with Mizzou students every day,” Horner said. “That really is the true reward.”

As an undergraduate, Horner expected to teach in a high school setting, but after his experiences teaching higher education as a graduate student he decided to stick with the college route.

“There is a part of me that, when I'm done teaching college students, wants to go back and teach high school to end my career,” Horner said.

As for advice toward his colleagues, Horner said that this award doesn’t mean he is a better teacher than those who haven’t been honored with it.

“We have a lot of great teachers here at the University of Missouri, whether they've been given awards or not,” Horner said. “I think if you are teaching and you love it, that will get through to students, and that is the best reward of all.”

Aleksandr Koldobskiy - Mathematics

Koldobskiy credits much of his success to those who first educated him in the field of mathematics.

These mentors include his mother — like her son she was a mathematician and educator — and his high school math teachers Alexander Plotkin and Andrei Suslin.

“[They] were excellent mathematicians and educators,” Koldobskiy said. “I still try to follow their examples.”

Today, Koldobskiy has been teaching mathematics for over 30 years. He sees teaching as a way of sharing not only his passion towards math but also his belief in the field’s importance.

“In the big picture, I believe that the strength of the society very much depends on the quality of mathematical education, not only through science and technology, but also logic and creativity,” Koldobskiy said.

Koldobskiy sees this award as another reason to keep doing the work of mathematics, specifically within his focus of geometric tomography.

“[The award] provides a huge positive impulse to continue to innovate in this field of mathematics,” Koldobskiy said. “I hope to be able to attract more students to my field and to mathematics in general.”

Koldobskiy thanked his colleagues for their support and his students for helping make him feel young even after more than 30 years teaching students about math.

When Koldobskiy was in college in St. Petersburg, Russia, he was taught that teaching is an art form, and that it requires a strong level of preparation each day. That was the advice he hoped to leave his fellow educators with.

“Try to be as clear as possible, and include something exciting in every class,” Koldobskiy said.

Robert Sharp - Plant Sciences

Sharp was raised in the U.K. and first studied plant sciences at Lancaster University, but he moved to the U.S. after receiving his Ph.D. in 1981.

“Moving to the U.S., I had outstanding opportunities to pursue postdoctoral studies with several leading scientists in plant water relations and plant growth analysis,” Sharp said.

One reason that this award was especially meaningful to Sharp was because of how long he has been a part of the MU community.

“I am greatly honored to receive this recognition,” Sharp said. “I have been with MU for the whole of my faculty career, from 1986.”

Sharp said his decades in higher education and his time at MU would not have been possible without those who first educated him. Sharp specifically thanked professors Theodore Hsaio and Wendy Silk, of the University of California, Davis, and professor John Boyer, then of the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign but now with MU. He also thanked professors Terence Mansfield and Bill Davies from his time at Lancaster.

Sharp further thanked those who helped him in his work since coming to MU, especially two members of the Interdisciplinary Plant Group: Douglas Randall and Vicki Bryan. Randall was previously the director of the IPG. Sharp currently serves in that role.

“Vicki Bryan, the IPG coordinator, has been an indispensable colleague,” Sharp said.

Sharp hopes to leave simple, but impactful advice for those who hope to be great at research.

“Work on something you are passionate about,” he said.

Edited by Alex Fulton | afulton@themaneater.com

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