2013 Kemper Luncheon

Good afternoon and welcome to our annual celebration of the William T. Kemper Teaching Excellence Awards. I’m pleased that everyone found their way to this new venue for the Luncheon. Welcome to Webster’s newest campus gem–the East Academic Building: A product of the recently completed Webster Works campaign. Spring is in the air, the academic year is drawing to a close, and it is the perfect time to celebrate those professors who have been singled out for their excellence in the classroom by their students and their peers.

This is also the day we express our gratitude to the William T. Kemper Foundation for your extraordinary generosity and support of quality teaching. We are pleased to have with us today our friends from Commerce Bank and the William T. Kemper Foundation¾ David Kemper, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Commerce Bancshares, Inc., and Chairman and CEO of Commerce Bank; Seth Leadbeater, Vice Chairman, Commerce Bancshares, Inc., Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Commerce Bank, St. Louis Region; Jack Shreiber, President, and Chief Operating Officer, Commerce Bank, St. Louis; Dee Joyner, Senior Vice President Director of Community Relations and Director of Organizational Development; and Jenny Hoelzer, Assistant Vice President, Community Relations, Grants Manager, William T. Kemper Foundation - Commerce Bank, Trustee. Thank you for being here and for your commitment to Webster and to teaching excellence.

And I want to recognize Marilyn Fox and Tom Cornwell, members of our Board of Trustees who are with us today. Thank you for being here.

The Kemper Awards mean a great deal to all of us at Webster because they celebrate the exceptional skill of our finest teachers. In recent years, we have worked to leverage the collective wisdom of our Kemper award winners through the Kemper Panel at our annual Festival of Teaching. At the Kemper Panel event, Kemper award winners share their insights on teaching and answer questions from gathered faculty—aspiring Kemper award winners if you will.  This year, we had a lively panel moderated by Gwyneth Williams, and featuring former and current Kemper winners Mike Salevorus, Allan McNeill, and Larry Baden. Thanks to you all for making yourselves available to your colleagues for this vital conversation.

In addition to the Kemper Panel, we have something new to be grateful for this year. 2013 was the inaugural year for the William T. Kemper Speaker on Excellence in Teaching & Learning. Just a few weeks ago, in this very room, Dr. Randy Bass, Pew Scholar, Carnegie Fellow, and Executive Director of Georgetown University’s Center for New Designs in Learning and Scholarship spoke to an eager group about the dynamic intersection of technology and learning. I know Jenny Hoelzer can attest that Dr. Bass provided us all with an interesting picture of what the collegiate experience might look like for tomorrow’s students.  It is through the generosity of the Kemper Foundation that this extraordinary opportunity was made possible.

After lunch we will meet this year’s class of Kemper Award honorees – Aaron Aubuchon, Allan McNeill, and Andrea Miller. Gregory Weeks, our Kemper award winner from Vienna campus will not be with us today, but we will share some snippets from the recommendations that earned him this honor. These faculty members all share a passion for teaching and experiencing the joy of watching their students learn.  I look forward to hearing more about them.

Before we go further, I want to introduce a new member of our Webster family since our last luncheon. Eric Rothenbuhler joined the Webster family in August, as the new dean of the School of Communications.  Eric comes to Webster from Ohio University, where he served as associate dean of the Scripps College of Communication and a professor in the college’s School of Media Arts and Studies. Welcome, Eric.

Historically, at this point in our program I present an update on the year’s achievements at Webster – a brief list of highlights that is meant to communicate where Webster is positioned in the galaxy of higher education institutions locally and nationally. This year, the advent of the ubiquitous ‘college scorecards’ aimed at measuring educational ‘bang for the buck’ has me thinking about the true impact of higher education on students and how we quantify that value. The College Scorecard published by the White House and the Department of Education this past February is one such effort and is typical of the genre. [Show on screen]   The College Scorecard offers up 5 categories of  information –tuition, graduation rate, loan default rate, median borrowing, and, coming soon: employment, as measured by the average earnings of alumni.

The White House’s College Scorecard is meant to help students “…find out more about a college’s affordability and value so they can make more informed decisions…” A laudable goal; particularly so in light of the sacrifices that students and their families make in order to attend college today. But there are real challenges when offering up these types of comparisons: for one, the scorecard invites consumers of this data to equate average earnings with the value of an education. Earnings by field of study are important for students choosing a major, but a single figure representing average salary for all graduates of a particular university doesn’t reflect the quality of the educational experience. There simply isn’t enough context to make the data useful. Efforts to arm consumers are both necessary and worthy, but they are not yet perfect.

St. Louis Graduates is a local coalition of educators, business and philanthropic leaders - among them Commerce Bank - who have come together to promote college access and completion. This organization published a regional ‘report card’ around the same time that the Whitehouse came out with theirs. I was struck by a particular graph - which I will share with you here.

The difference here is context - by layering in additional data that, by themselves, are not particularly instructive, the St. Louis Graduates report card can deliver up a pretty nuanced picture. A picture that places graduation rates within the context of each institution’s mission and student population. The story of the intersection of those lines on that graph is the story of the passion, the expertise, and the priorities of the faculty in Webster University’s classrooms. It is a reflection of a campus culture that, today, joyfully and solemnly undertakes the annual celebration of the William T. Kemper Teaching Excellence Awards. We know the real value of higher education still lies within the passion of our faculty to inspire students.

In the same way that providing context for data can reveal profound truths. It is our students’ stories that provide context and meaning for the institution-wide, achievements that I will highlight for you. With this in mind, I will begin my annual review of Webster highlights with Samantha Powers.

Samantha is a junior in our Biology department and one of only 15 students in the United States granted a Student Undergraduate Research Fellowship from the American Society of Plant Biologists (ASPB).  Samantha thought that Plant Biology was just another class she needed for her degree in biology. But, because she had a professor who worked with her closely and who recognized her unique strengths, Samantha received  encouragement and support to apply for this prestigious national fellowship.  I’ll quote Samantha here: “I believe that one of Webster’s greatest strengths, and the one that ultimately led to me getting this fellowship, is the personal relationship that faculty and students are able to share at Webster,” and “It’s extremely reassuring to be surrounded by so many people who are so consistently committed to seeing you succeed.”

Opportunities to work closely with faculty, undertake  research and publish with them are emblematic of the kind of rich, personal experiences that students can encounter at Webster. Faculty member Debbie Stiles supervised a group of her Applied Educational Psychology students as they participated in and then evaluated a pilot program entitled: “Supporting Children within a Social Justice Framework.” The research and analysis took place over the course of a year, the students presented on the project at an international conference and co-authored an article with Debbie that was just published in the spring 2013 edition of the International Psychology Bulletin.

These stories would be the context in which to consider some of the following institutional achievements:

  • Webster continues to move up in the “America’s Best Colleges” 2013 ranking compiled by U.S. News & World Report. Webster is now listed at 24 in the Regional-Midwest category.
  • For the second consecutive year, Webster’s study abroad programs received special recognition — ranking in the top two percent of the nearly 1,400 colleges and universities surveyed.
  • Webster’s online graduate programs in education and business have been included in the U.S. News & World Report’s 2013 list of “Best Online Programs.”  Webster ranked highest of among all higher education institutions in the bi-state.
  • Last but by no means least, you may have heard a little something about our Chess Team’s recent conquest of the President’s Cup – the national championship of collegiate chess.

The addition of the nation’s top-ranked chess team to Webster opens up doors to recruit new kinds of students from across the globe. And opens new opportunities for academic programs to engage with the Team in ways that build strategic thinking into curriculum.

Our new chess team joins a long Webster tradition of fine competitors: our Forensics & Debate Team is a perennial powerhouse: since 2000, they have never finished outside of the Top Ten in the Pi Kappa Delta National Tournament. Our Baseball Gorloks – after six straight SLIAC Titles, a successful trip to the NCAA Div 3 Championships, and a berth in the College World Series; they are currently ranked among the top ten teams in the nation in Division 3. And at 22 – 6 overall, they stand atop the St. Louis Intercollegiate Athletic Conference.

Institutional excellence, demonstrated by accomplishments such as these, contribute to an environment in which students can realize extraordinary personal and professional achievements.

We were thrilled to learn recently that International Studies Major, Carisa Crittendon, has been accepted into the Japan Exchange and Teaching Program.  She will spend the next two years teaching English language and culture in Japan. Carisa has had the opportunity to participate in two of our strong study abroad programs - Japan and Thailand. The JET program is a HIGHLY selective program run by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Education in Japan.  To have her chosen to participate in this program is an honor that speaks highly of both Carisa and Webster University.

Another demonstration of how great educational experiences can spur students’ success outside of the classroom would be Webster Geneva student, Polina Bessonova whose work, along with that of Webster alumna Soraya Bakhtiar, was recently featured in the French Elle magazine.

Webster’s commitment to quality teaching extends beyond the classroom and challenges us to find new ways to encourage and recognize excellence in every facet of this institution’s operations. Which brings us to our celebration today. The William T. Kemper Award for Excellence in Teaching Award is a treasured award at Webster and contributes in a significant way to our mission to ensure quality-learning experiences that transform lives for individual excellence and global citizenship. We are grateful for your generous support of that mission.

Now, here on behalf of our partners, the William T. Kemper Foundation and Commerce Bank Trustees is ­­­Jack Schreiber, President and Chief Operating Officer, Commerce Bank St. Louis who will say a few words and lead us into lunch.

Thank you, David. And thank you and congratulations to our Kemper Award recipients, Aaron, Allan, Andrea and Greg.  You all have a gift and we are grateful that you practice your vocation in our classrooms with our students.  You are changing so many lives in so many ways. Let’s give these extraordinary teachers another round of applause for their dedication to quality in the classroom.

I am inspired by our faculty and enjoyed hearing your philosophies on teaching. It is energizing and motivating to listen as you describe the joy you experience as teachers.  As President of Webster, I am proud that you are part of this community. To our Kemper honorees, congratulations again, not only for your award but also for your exceptional work and all that you do for our students – in, and out of the classroom.

To our friends at the Kemper Foundation, thank you again for this beautiful rite of spring, where we take a moment and celebrate our remarkable faculty. We treasure your support of our faculty and our mission to transform lives for individual excellence and global citizenship.  Thank you for being a part of the Webster community.  Thank you for being here today, have a good afternoon.


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