Kemper Fellow recipients emphasize hands on, continual learning in classroom

The award honors five outstanding faculty members each year with a $10,000 stipend.

Tension and stress run high in Botswana Blackburn’s classroom in early October as students take their capstone midterms for the School of Health Professions.

Near the end of the test, Blackburn looks outside her classroom window and sees her husband with balloons and flowers accompanied by a TV camera. The tension breaks as the room breaks out in celebration of Blackburn’s receival of the William T. Kemper Fellowship.

The William T. Kemper Fellowship for Teaching Excellence was established in 1991 and awards a $10,000 stipend to five outstanding teachers at MU each year.

This year, the receipts of the award were Botswana Blackburn, Jennifer Fellabaum-Toston, Donald G. Meyer, Peter P. Motavalli and Brian Silvey. All of the fellows stressed the importance of a strong relationship with their students as well as a continual pursuit of knowledge.

School of Health Professions Professor

Blackburn started as a professor in the School of Health Professions after several years working in the Kansas City, Missouri and Iowa health departments. The move to MU and the opportunity to work with students allowed Blackburn to focus more on her role as a teacher and mentor.

“I look at teaching as an opportunity to inspire some students, to get people to look at their futures and figure out what’s best for them,” Blackburn said. “I look at teaching as a way to impart some lifelong knowledge, not just temporary, so it’s a fine balance. I really want the students to appreciate learning.”

Service and campus involvement plays a huge role in the way Blackburn approaches teaching. She serves as the campus adviser for Alpha Eta National Honor Society and the MU chapter of UNICEF, as well as a leader for the office of Fraternity and Sorority Life and the Health Professions Freshman Interest Group.

“Service is also a part of being a teaching faculty,” Blackburn said. “But I think being actively involved on campus, I can get a pulse for what’s going on with my students, so I won’t give a huge paper on the weeks coming up to homecoming.”

Throughout her teaching career, Blackburn has focused on strong relationships with students and appreciates when students return and express their gratitude for her work in the years after they graduate.

“I want students to know that I have an open door policy,” Blackburn said. “I don’t want to be a faculty member that students can’t approach … What I love most about teaching is seeing my students succeed. When alumni get in touch with me or students come back or someone reaches out to me on LinkedIn or Facebook it’s really rewarding.”

College of Education Professor

Associate teaching professor in the College of Education, Jennifer Fellabaum-Toston, was near tears on an early Monday morning when fellow faculty members and friends surprised her in a meeting with the reveal that she was awarded a Kemper Fellowship.

Fellabaum-Toston balances the roles of mentorship and teaching the classroom, finding ways to manage both, so that her students earn the most out of their time at MU.

“I try to bring some of the mentoring into the classroom,” Fellabaum-Toston said. “The graduate students tend to be in a class for a common purpose. So I try to think about how I can connect the program to something bigger. Helping students connect coursework and their lives is a really important thing.”

As she fills multiple roles of mentor and teacher, Fellabaum-Toston also remains a learner. She strives to continue learning more about the way to teach, as well as learn from the faculty and students around her.

“I approach my teaching style as a co-creator of knowledge,” Fellabaum-Toston said. “I like to say I know enough but not everything. So I may have some expertise, but so do my students, and they’re bringing that into the classroom which is enriching the learning for all of us.”

She also ascribes to the philosophy of life-long learning and therefore never stops finding ways to enhance her curriculum and the ways in which she guides and mentors students. This happens through personal research, going to conferences and learning from her colleagues and faculty.

“As technology, students, and as myself grow, develop and change, you have to reflect that and my courses have to reflect that as well,” Fellabuam-Toston said.

College of Agriculture Professor

Professor Peter Motavalli from the MU College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources, approaches the classroom the same way he takes on life, with a sense of adventure. As a professor of soil fertility and plant nutrition Motavalli strives to inspire students to appreciate soil science and to understand its relevance in solving multiple environmental and agriculture issues.

“To have a successful teaching program, you must be constantly modifying and assessing your approach,” Motavalli said to the MU News Bureau. “Teaching has allowed me to be creative, and I’ve appreciated that.”

Motavalli takes a hands-on approach to the classroom, teaching students the “flipped classroom” learning style where students do projects like writing manuals for soil and plant testing to delve deeper into the curriculum.

Students also continue expanding on their studies by walking around campus and learn about storm water drainage, water pollution and multiple environmental monitoring stations.

Motavalli credits his adventurous classroom spirit to the plethora of traveling he did while he was young as well as his time as a Fulbright Scholar in Sudan and time spent in London.

College of Business Professor

Professor Don Meyer from the Trulaske College of Business was very surprised and honored when he won the award.

As an individual who is very well versed in the business of business, Meyer hopes that his years of experience help students reach their goals through his hands-on approach to teaching.

Meyer’s interest in business started in high school with his job at an auto parts store. His interest continued through college and after graduation as he worked at Anheuser-Busch for 12 years.

“I think what I bring to the classroom is a real practical understanding that all of the time this stuff doesn’t work,” Meyer said. “Even if you give your best efforts, you fail. You want to fail fast and move on. So I think I bring a practical experience as a practitioner doing marketing, sometimes things work out spectacularly and sometimes they don’t.”

His classes consist of trips to Target and Chick-fil-A to learn about supply chain management. He also likes to bring in speakers and teachers that align with the goals of his lectures to give more of a real-world view of his teaching.

“So they have their textbook that they read, and we have their lectures and a lot of that is theory so if you can wrap in some stories it helps put learning in context,” Meyer said.

School of Music Professor

Brian Silvey, professor in the School of Music, was surprised when a crowd of people burst into the rehearsal room when he won the award.

Silvey advocates for hard work and perseverance when he approaches teaching student musicians. He refers to the music that students take and rehearse over several weeks and the perseverance that students need to accomplish that.

For musical education students as well, it takes a lot of patience to work with students towards their goals.

“It’s not easy to get in front of middle and high school students and motivate them to do their very best,” SIlvey said. “So it takes time to be patient but also to work very diligently towards your musical goals.”

Silvey appreciates seeing his own students teach their future students. He attends elementary school performances of his past students and sees the love for music that goes into the shows.

Silvey hopes his students are empowered and motivated by his teaching so they can learn and become the best musical teachers in the years to come.

Edited by Alex Fulton |

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