(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 annual Center for Innovation, Technology and Entrepreneurship (CITE) 100K Venture Competition and Exposition will be held on the Main Campus on Dec. 1. Twenty-eight teams from across the university will exhibit their project; six teams will compete for a prize pool of more than $100,000 in funding to launch their new venture / company. More than 650 students have participated in launching new technology ventures.
Biotechnology, Sciences and Engineering (BSE 2.102), Main Campus
This concert features 50 community children performing music in the UTSA Downtown String Project Winter Concert. The children, led by UTSA music students studying to be music teachers, will join together in playing the Theme from Batman at their concert. The Batman of San Antonio, a local celebrity figure, will make an appearance at the concert. This event is free.
Buena Vista Theatre, Downtown Campus
Graduate student uses storytelling to highlight important issues facing children
As touch screens and e-books demand more and more attention from both casual readers and scholars, many people say the handwriting is on the wall for the printed page.
At UTSA, the handwriting is on the wall for a library that doesn't have any printed books.
Since March 2010, the bookless library in the Applied Engineering and Technology Building has given UTSA students an innovative way to read, research and work with each other to solve problems.
With ultra-modern furniture and a décor featuring desktop computers, scanners and LCD screens, the AET Library is designed to engage students in an online format. But it also offers group study niches and study rooms with whiteboards and glass walls on which students can write. The space encourages teamwork, communications and problem solving for the next generation of scientists and professional engineers.
Did you know? The UTSA AET Library is the nation's first completely bookless library on a college or university campus. It served as a model for Bexar County's first-in-the-nation public bookless library system and one of its branches, the Dr. Ricardo Romo BiblioTech.
The University of Texas at San Antonio is dedicated to the advancement of knowledge through research and discovery, teaching and learning, community engagement and public service. As an institution of access and excellence, UTSA embraces multicultural traditions and serves as a center for intellectual and creative resources as well as a catalyst for socioeconomic development and the commercialization of intellectual property - for Texas, the nation and the world.
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