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APSU honors four for superior teaching

January 7, 2003

Without minimizing the importance of publishing and research by University faculty who are seeking tenure, Austin Peay officials reaffirmed the value of exceptional teaching several years ago by establishing the Socrates Award.

The Socrates award, which is presented annually during Winter Commencement to four tenure-track faculty, spotlights selected faculty with a record of outstanding teaching.
January 7, 2003

Without minimizing the importance of publishing and research by University faculty who are seeking tenure, Austin Peay officials reaffirmed the value of exceptional teaching several years ago by establishing the Socrates Award.

The Socrates award, which is presented annually during Winter Commencement to four tenure-track faculty, spotlights selected faculty with a record of outstanding teaching.

Honored during Winter Commencement as the 2002 recipients of the coveted Socrates Award were Dr. Jerry Plummer, Dr. Alex King, Dr. Jill Eichhorn and Dr. Omie Shepherd.

An assistant professor of economics, Plummer has 10 years of teaching experience, four at APSU. Additionally, he has more than 20 years of corporate business experience, which benefits his students because he teaches them real-world applications of economic principles. Although he has taught a variety of courses, his favorite is economics. Rather than spouting textbook information, he draws parallels between economic principles and today's hot topics and concernsa reason he is tapped often by the media as an expert on economic and financial issues.

Plummer's extracurricular activities make him an interesting teacher and a rich resource for students. Among his private ventures, he serves as a consultant for private firms and government. He is the co-host of “Financial Empowerment,” a financial self-help and motivational radio program on WFSK-FM, Nashville. On that program and in class, he teaches if people are shown how to do things themselves, they not only accomplish their goals, they also gain self-confidence.

The wit he brings to class is reflected in his resume in which he lists previous work as “Manager of Kentucky Fried Chicken, 1973-74. Gratuities included being robbed twice.”

Plummer earned his doctorate from Middle Tennessee State University in 1991. Both his MBA and bachelor's degree are from Tennessee State University.

An assistant professor of physics, King earned a PhD from the University of Illinois at Chicago. His master's degree is from Southern Methodist University, Dallas, and his bachelor's degree is from Austin College, Sherman, Texas.

In his letter of nomination, Dr. Jaime Taylor, professor of physics and chair of the physics and astronomy department, wrote: “(Dr. King's) enthusiasm and knowledge of what is happening in physics at the national level are the major reasons APSU went from having the least number of undergraduate physics majors in the state of Tennessee to having the most in only two years.”

Dr. Don Luck, interim dean of the College of Professional Programs and Social Sciences, wrote: “I believe Dr. King to be an excellent university professor who cares for students as much as his content area.” Luck said King's outstanding teaching and care for his students are demonstrated by his significant course development, increased numbers of students taking astronomy and the 34 percent increase in physics majors since Fall 2000. According to Luck, APSU's physics department now has the largest undergraduate enrollment among state colleges.

Dr. Sarah Lundin-Schiller, associate professor of biology, recalls when her McCord office was adjacent to King's classroom. She wrote: “Alex's lectures are informative and fun. (I don't remember ever laughing during a physics lecture when I was a student.) Alex has found a way to relate conceptually difficult material in a way that engages students rather than threatens them.”

Perhaps Taylor's conclusion best describes King's teaching: “Unless you can excite a student about physics, you are going to have a difficult time teaching them. Dr. King's enthusiasm is contagious. Physics students, as well as physics faculty, have picked up on his love of learning, and this has played a major role in creating an exciting learning environment in the department.”

Eichhorn reaches students through her dual role at APSUassistant professor of English and coordinator of Women's Studies. She earned a doctorate in English from Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, with master's and bachelor's degrees from the University of Montana, Missoula.

In her letter of nomination, Dr. Susan Calovini, associate professor of English and chair of the languages and literature department, wrote: “Jill has proven herself to be an outstanding teacher. Her impressive student evaluations and peer reviews of teaching illustrate her excellence in the classroom. Just as important, she expands the classroom for her students by involving them in a variety of activities to broaden their horizons…Through the many programs she sponsors for Women's Studies, she enriches the lives and learning of her students, colleagues and community.”

Dr. Jim Diehr, interim dean of the College of Arts and Letters, seconded the nomination: “The committee was impressed with Professor Eichhorn's strong teaching record. Her student evaluations are consistently high, and letters from peers who have seen her teach are enthusiastic. She challenges students, both in the classroom and through outside projects. She demonstrates the kind of teaching…the Socrates Award is designed to reward.”

In Spring 2000, President Hoppe challenged faculty to be open to the idea of teaching online courses. Only three faculty stepped forward to propose, develop and deliver online courses by Fall 2001. One was Dr. Omie Shepherd, assistant professor of health and human performance.

Dr. Stan Groppel, dean of the Center for Extended and distance Education, commended her initiative: “Dr. Omie Shepherd has proven to be very professional, cooperative and concerned about providing students the opportunity and assistance needed to achieve their educational objectives.”

In his nomination, Dr. Wayne Chaffin, department chair wrote: “Dr. Shepherd has energetically pursued and employed innovative classroom teaching techniques to stimulate student interest and address the different learning styles among students.”

Anne Black, associate professor of health and human performance, wrote, “(Dr. Shepherd) is an APSU Web pioneer, based not on necessity, but on her belief that Web instruction offers an exciting medium for teacher-student interaction.

“The interesting activities of Dr. Shepherd's Web-based courses…are a logical extension of her emphasis in classroom interaction. She uses collaborative projects and debates with a focus on self-motivation. (She) is a committed classroom teacher. Her Web-based teaching, which may be hard to evaluate in the context of traditional Socrates Awards, is exemplary.”