(May 15, 2012) --- As a child in Amarillo, John Miller Morris loved helping his mother, an elementary school instructor, with her grading and classroom chores. To him, her first-grade classroom was a wondrous place, combining art and nature, intellect and games. And a complete collection of Dr. Seuss books, he recalls.
"If I am successful in the modern college classroom," he says, "it may be because I create some of the excitement, wonder, and discovery of a really excellent first-grade classroom — a place of knowledge and wonder."
Morris, a professor of geography in the College of Liberal and Fine Arts, was selected to receive the Piper Professor Award for his dedication to the teaching profession and for outstanding academic, scientific and scholarly achievement.
The Piper Professor Award was established by the San Antonio–based Minnie Stevens Piper Foundation in 1958 to annually recognize outstanding college professors across Texas. Morris is the eighth UTSA faculty member to receive the award; the most recent was Felix Almaraz, professor of history, who earned the distinction in 2003.
Morris, who holds four degrees from UT Austin, joined UTSA in 1991 as an adjunct lecturer. In 1994, he became an assistant professor and earned tenure in 1999. In 2010, the same year he won a Regents' Outstanding Teaching Award, he was promoted to full professor.
"On behalf of the university, I am delighted that John Morris is being recognized for his achievements through the Piper Award," said John H. Frederick, provost and vice president for academic affairs. "I know he shares my sentiments that having another Piper Professor on campus is a reflection not only of his work but of the many outstanding classroom instructors on faculty at the university."
Morris regularly teaches World Regional Geography, Cultural Geography, Geography of Europe, and Weather and Climate. He says he particularly enjoys teaching large auditorium courses for the opportunity to engage new college students and prepare them for success in their other courses.
Using humor and wit is an essential part of his classroom pedagogy, he says. "Learning is innate to youth. So is mirth and adventure," he says. " personally believe the classroom can include both learning and collective joy."
His classroom lectures are known to be dynamic; he polls students and solicits their commentary and questions, modeling exaggerated delight in exchange for their participation— "All my life I have been waiting for that question!" He frequently updates his digital media presentations to reference current global events, and he shares relevant anecdotes from his own experiences, having lived in Russia, Austria, Mexico and Israel. He might wear a Bedouin robe when lecturing on the Middle East, for example, or speak with a native Texas twang or foreign accent (he speaks five languages) to drive home a point. He may offer a bonus point on an exam for knowing how to say "hello" in Japanese or Arabic.
"I have constantly been impressed by his teaching prowess and ability to help in molding the future by delivering the best in education," said Mansour El-Kikhia, chair of the Department of Political Science and Geography. "We are indeed fortunate to have an educator, researcher and scholar in the caliber of Dr. Morris."
His courses are popular with students across the university. In his 20 years at UTSA, he estimates he has taught more than 8,000 undergraduates.
"I still remember the first lecture I attended where Dr. Morris explained to us the importance of geography," said Devin Fitzpatrick '09, a finance graduate who took Morris' World Geography course to fulfill a core elective. "He fostered debate and challenged us to think critically, pressing us beyond the comfort of our ignorance. His courses may have been undergraduate, but our conversations were intense, thoughtful, and meaningful."
Morris often mentors students outside the classroom. For instance, he saw potential in Fitzpatrick and urged him to consider graduate school, pressing him to try again after his first application was rejected. Fitzpatrick now is completing a master's degree in global policy studies at UT Austin's Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs and will walk the stage this month.
Morris is living proof, says COLFA Dean Dan Gelo, that a professor can be rigorous and popular.
"John brings an infectious enthusiasm and abundance of energy to the classroom, and it's not unusual for students to take multiple courses from him because they enjoy his teaching so much," Gelo said. "He also is a challenging teacher. His courses and grading standards are known to be difficult, making the consistently positive student evaluations all the more impressive."
UTSA researchers are exploring matter at the atomic level with Helenita. It's one of the most powerful microscopes in the world, with the ability to operate near the theoretical limit of resolution. At 9 feet, 2 inches tall and weighing more than two tons, Helenita can dissect almost anything. With Helenita's resolution, researchers can study particles atom by atom to see how they behave.
That's critical in developing nanotechnology that will help diagnosis early-stage breast cancer or make helmets that are uber strong. Moreover, the detail that Helenita provides will allow nanotechnology researchers to create new therapies and treatments to fight a wide range of human diseases.
Did you know? Helenita can magnify a sample 20 million times its size, which would make a strand of human hair the size of San Antonio.
Join AIA San Antonio’s Women in Architecture group for their networking and happy hour event, where all design professionals are welcome.
Liberty Bar, 1111 S. Alamo St.
This documentary, presented by the San Antonio Film Festival, documents the experience of re-entry after incarceration. The film features Michael Gilbert, associate professor in the department of criminal justice and director of the Office of Community and Restorative Justice program at UTSA.
Tobin Center for the Performing Arts, 100 Auditorium Circle
Discover resources and strategies for teaching Tejano history and culture and get a special educator's tour of the new long-term exhibit, Los Tejanos.
Institute of Texan Cultures, 801 E. César E. Chávez Blvd.
This cowboy-themed programming, offered in conjunction with Our Kids Magazine's Kidcation Week, gives families the opportunity to visit with cowboy docents, enjoy readings and visit activity tables.
Institute of Texan Cultures, 801 E. Cesar E. Chavez Blvd.
The UTSA Alumni Association hosts this annual gala honoring the Alumna of the Year, Alumnus of the Year and the Alumnus of the Year Lifetime Achievement award winners.
Hyatt Regency Hill Country Resort & Spa, 9800 Hyatt Resort Dr.
After graduation, Queretaro native founded a music label recognized by SXSW
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