(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."
The Office of International Programs will host a Study Abroad Fair for students interested in taking their academics abroad.
University Center main corridor, Main Campus
The UTSA Institute for P-20 Initiatives and the Texas Mentoring Partnership hosts the 5th Annual Texas Mentoring Summit. The theme Mentoring: A Pathway To and Through College & Career will focus on the positive impact mentoring can have on student success from k-12 through college and beyond.
Wyndham Riverwalk Hotel, Downtown San Antonio
The UTSA Political Science and Geography Department hosts a panel discussion called "Forecasting the Trump Presidency" on the eve of Inauguration Day.
H-E-B University Center, Bexar Room (HUC 1.102), Main Campus
The UTSA Department of Physics and Astronomy invites everyone to its monthly lecture and stargazing at the Curtis Vaughan Jr. Observatory.
Flawn Science Building (FLN 2.02.02), Main Campus
The UTSA Music Department presents Miller-Porfiris Duo (violin/viola) in a performance of period appropriate music as accompaniment to the silent films, "The Great Train Robbery," "The Violinmaker of Cremona," and "Ballet Mecanique."
Arts Building, Recital Hall (ARTS 2.03.02), Main Campus
The CACP 2016-2017 Speaker Series continues with architect and writer Jason Griffiths of the University of Arizona and Jason Griffiths Architecture. His practice is based on a multidisciplinary approach.
Buena Vista Building, Aula Canaria Auditorium (BVB 1.328), Downtown Campus
UTSA's Department of Music hosts Dr. David Huron from Ohio State University as part of the Donald Hodges lecture series. Huron is a Canadian arts and humanities distinguished professor at Ohio State University.
John Peace Library, UTSA Faculty Center, (JPL 4.04.22), Main Campus
The UTSA community is encouraged to donate blood and save a life. Donors will also receive a free t-shirt.
H-E-B University Center parking lot, Main Campus
Dr. Stephanie Westney (violin) presents a concert of Mozart compositions as performed by herself and other talented musicians from the university and surrounding area. This concert is free and open to the public.
Arts Building, Recital Hall (ARTS 2.03.02), Main Campus
The Student Center for Community Engagement and Inclusion annually hosts a Volunteer Opportunities Fair to allow students, faculty and staff to learn about volunteer and service-learning opportunities in the San Antonio area.
University Center, 1st floor corridor, Main Campus
Join the conversation about the experiences of military-connected families in transition. Free parking in the Cattleman Square (along Buena Vista Street). The event is free and open to the public.
Frio Street Building, Riklin Auditorium (FS 1.406), Downtown Campus
School district superintendents and other district leaders responsible for bilingual and ESL programs' administration and accountability learn about cultural literacy, language, and diversity in the community.
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