Biennial competition for outstanding professors narrows down to three finalists

Photo credit: Robert Foster Cherry Award Office

By Savannah Cooper | Staff Writer

Since 1991, three professors from different departments and backgrounds have been finalists in a competition for the largest monetary teaching award in the world. The Robert Foster Cherry Award for Great Teaching is awarded biennially to nominate teachers who have done significant work within their perspective classrooms.

Cherry is a Baylor class of 1929 graduate and Law School class of 1932 graduate who made an endowment that established the Cherry Award Program to highlight extraordinary teachers and bring them to Baylor to connect with its students.

Dr. Michael Thompson, Associate Dean for Undergraduate Programs and Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering professor, is the Cherry award committee chairman is hopping that from hearing these lectures he too as a professor will improve.

“As a professor I’m interested in what ideas can I borrow from them to make my classes more interesting,” Thompson said. “That’s what we’re hoping happens, that we get enough faculty going and student interest that just sparks a discussion about great teaching at Baylor.”

Year after year, Baylor is presented with several notable candidates. This year, there have been 90 candidates who have been nominated by a peer then supported by testimonies from their students. Cherry Award Program Coordinator Alison Neubert works with the committee explained how the twelve member group narrows down to three finalists.

“The Cherry Award Committee includes twelve faculty members from different disciplines who narrow approximately one hundred nominations down to thirty and then to seven semi-finalists,” Neubert said. “Finally, the top three are chosen. These finalists are invited to Baylor to present a public lecture and two classroom lectures. They will interact with the Cherry Award Committee members, faculty in their discipline, student groups and the Baylor community at large.”

In addition to a teaching position at Baylor, both the winner and finalists are compensated for their great achievements and scholarship. Each finalist receives $15,000 with their invitation to Baylor while the Cherry award recipient receives $250,000.

“These are great teachers and I really look forward to hearing what they have to say because almost invariably they have very interesting takes on different perspectives,” Thompson said.

For students attending who want the best out of their time there, Thompson suggests coming with an open mind ready to absorb some great teaching.

“If you just come with an open mind and realize these are great teachers and try to absorb what they’re saying I think that everybody who walks away from a Cherry lecture is usually glad that they came,” Thompson said.

Neubert has been working closely with the participants and coordinators of the event and recognizes how great of an opportunity this is for students who attend to ask questions and be fully present.

“Some very fortunate Baylor students will be given the once in a lifetime opportunity to learn from some of the best teachers in the world,” Neubert said. “I believe students who attend the public lectures given by the three finalists should come ready to be active participants. The opportunity for students to engage with these amazing professors during the Q&A following these lectures cannot be matched elsewhere in their academic career.”

One lecture has passed, but there are two more lectures. Clinton O. Longenecker from the University of Toledo will be speaking on “Career Success and Survival in the 21st Century: The Mandate for Life-Long Learning” on Monday Oct. 23 at 4:30 p.m at the Baylor Science Building room B.110. Heidi K. Elmendorf from Georgetown University will speak on “The Moral Relativism of Microbes: To Be or Not To Be Virulent” on Monday Oct. 30 at 3:30 p.m. at Kayser Auditorium.