(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 UTSA College of Architecture, Construction and Planning’s 2015-16 Speaker Series continues with Dana Cuff, Ph.D., a professor of architecture and urbanism at the University of California, Los Angeles. In her talk, Cuff will discuss new forms of “studio” and new types of practices. Free and open to the public.
Aula Canaria Lecture Hall (BV 1.328), UTSA Downtown Campus
The UTSA Institute of Texan Cultures invites Texas and Texans to the Asian Festival. What began as a traditional family reunion for the Chinese New Year has expanded to include other Asian communities and participants, showcasing their unique culture and traditions.
The UTSA Institute of Texan Cultures
Join the UTSA Department of Interdisciplinary Learning and Teaching in celebrating interdisciplinary inquiry at the 2016 Interdisciplinary Studies Colloquium. The colloquium will include a panel of faculty and recent doctoral graduate and a showcase of the best IDS undergraduate inquiry projects of the year 2015. The event is free and open to the public.
Business Building (BB 2.06.04), UTSA Main Campus
Are you looking for career opportunities in Science, Technology, Engineering or Math? Come to the SPRING 2015 STEM Career Fair. Recruiters from across the STEM fields will be present with full-time, part-time and/or internship opportunities. Professional dress is required. Bring plenty of resumes! Download the UTSA Career Fair Plus App on iOS and Android.
Convocation Center, Main Campus
The UTSA College of Architecture, Construction and Planning (CACP) welcomes renowned architect Cesar Pelli as part of the CACP’s 2015-16 Speaker Series. Pelli is founder and Senior Principal of the New Haven, Conn. firm Pelli Clarke Pelli Architects. In his talk, “Becoming an Architect,” Pelli will present and discuss projects that were critical steps in his career.
Buena Vista Theater (BV 1.326), Downtown Campus
The UTSA College of Public Policy presents the Dean's Distinguished Lecture Series featuring Dr. Iris Carlton-LaNey, Professor of the School of Social Work at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. Dr. Iris Carlton LaNey will speak to the UTSA community about the role and impact of African-Americans in the social work profession.
Buena Vista Theater (BV 1.326), Downtown Campus
The UTSA College of Public Policy presents the Dean's Distinguished Lecture Series featuring Dr. Iris Carlton-LaNey, Professor of the School of Social Work at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. Dr. Carlton-LaNey will speak to the UTSA community about the role and impact of African-Americans in the social work profession.
Buena Vista Theater (BV 1.326), Downtown Campus
Please join us for a presentation and book signing by Luis Carlos Montalván (Fmr. Capt., USA), author of the New York Times Bestseller Until Tuesday and the international award-winning childrens book Tuesday Tucks Me In. His books will be available for purchase at the UTSA Bookstore. This event is free and open to the public.
Southwest Room (DB 1.124), Downtown Campus
The 12th Annual Black Heritage Gala is a formal event which includes a student performance, keynote remarks by Michael Brown, an award presentation, dinner and dancing. Tickets are $10 for UTSA students and $15 for all other guests. Tickets are on sale now at Roadrunner Express. Contact (210) 458-4770 for more information.
H-E-B University Center Ballroom, Main Campus
The UTSA Institute of Texan Cultures will host a free workshop focusing on teaching Latin American culture and geography for students seeking their teacher certification. The workshop includes free resources for teaching Latin American subject matter as well as presentations on language, identity, music, geography, and political and developmental history, and a special educators’ tour of the museum’s Los Tejanos exhibit. Free with registration.
The UTSA Institute of Texan Cultures (ITC 3.01.02)
First-generation college student worked his way through college with 16-hour days
2015 was a significant year for UTSA. As the university moved forward on the road to Tier One research, designations and recruitment of high caliber faculty and students, it also completed its first ever capital campaign. Read about UTSA's accomplishments in the 2015 Year in Review as we look forward to what the next year will bring.
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