As students found their way to the first day of classes at Kansas University Thursday, the annual “surprise patrol” of KU administrators sought out professors singled out for Kemper awards.
The W.T. Kemper Fellowships are awarded to 20 professors for outstanding teaching and advising as determined by a seven-member selection committee.
Deborah Smith, associate professor of ecology and evolutionary biology, was the first recipient of the $5,000 award in her class on the biology of insects in Stauffer-Flint Hall Thursday morning.
New KU Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little congratulated Smith personally along with several other university leaders.
“This means you won’t have the quiz I was going to give you,” Smith joked with her students shortly after the group took several minutes congratulating her.
Gray-Little said she had never done anything quite like that before, and said she enjoyed the experience and what the award stood for.
“It is clear how much it meant to her to have her work recognized and it’s just very inspiring to see it,” Gray-Little said.
Smith said the award came as a “really big surprise” and that her pulse was racing during the rest of her morning class.
An entomologist, Smith is teaching courses this semester on insects and spiders. She said she always tries to make her courses accessible to anyone who works hard and can demonstrate what they’ve learned.
She said people take her class about the biology of spiders for a variety of reasons.
“Usually there’s at least one person who’s trying to cure a phobia,” she said.
And she’s never met one yet who has run screaming out of the classroom upon hearing one of the requirements of the class: keeping a pet spider for the entire semester.
Other professors winning awards Thursday afternoon included: Andrea Greenhoot, associate professor of psychology; Ruth Ann Atchley, associate professor of psychology; and Heather Desaire, associate professor of chemistry.
Awards will continue to be given out in the coming days until Sept. 2. The award is funded by a $650,000 grant from the William T. Kemper Foundation and matched with $650,000 in matching funds by the KU Endowment Association.
In all, the 20 recipients will receive $100,000 this year as the awards are distributed.