Professor Tom Phillips receives 2014 Shutz Award for distinguished teaching

Professor Tom Phillips joined the faculty in the Division of Biological Sciences in 1986.
Melody Kroll
News Source: 
College of Arts & Science
Biological Sciences

The University of Missouri has named Tom Phillips, professor of biological sciences, as the recipient of the 2014 Maxine Christopher Shutz Award and Lecture for Distinguished Teaching.

The annual award is presented to a faculty member who has demonstrated extra efforts to involve undergraduates in active learning experiences and to personalize the undergraduate experience of students.

In nominating Phillips for the award, John C. Walker, professor and director of the Division of Biological Sciences, noted his sustained commitment to students throughout their college career.

“From their first days in the Freshman Interest Group program through their senior year and graduation, Tom engages students one-on-one and gets to know them,” he wrote in his nomination letter.

Phillips currently teaches a senior-level histology and microscopic anatomy course, a sophomore-level honors cell biology course, a senior seminar course on pathophysiology, and a professional skills course. He is a co-faculty member for the Honors Pre-Med Freshman Interest Group and also a frequent mentor for students in the honors research program in biological sciences.

Elizabeth Robinson, a junior double majoring in biological sciences and anthropology, took Phillips’ professional skills class. For the course, she recalls meeting with him regarding the resume and personal statement she prepared for medical school. His review, she says, went well beyond catching punctuation and grammar mistakes.

“We spent well over an hour examining my personal statement and discussing my future plans, including everything from specific activities that could take my resume to the next level to which medical schools might be a good fit for me,” she says. “He goes what most would consider to be above-and-beyond the call of duty in regards to the hours he puts into his students.”

Fellow biology professor Joel Maruniak has a unique vantage point for observing Phillips’ teaching and interactions with students. The lab for histology and microscopic anatomy is on the first floor of Lefevre Hall, across the way from Maruniak’s office. He says it’s easy to tell when Phillips is in the lab.

“He has a booming voice,” Maruniak says.

On warm days, he adds, it is also common to find Phillips sitting on the front steps of Lefevre Hall delivering feedback to a parade of students for hours.

Maruniak also has attended and observed several of Phillips’ lectures over the years. He says what he admires about Phillips is the “unabashed and contagious enthusiasm” he brings to his teaching.

“The students love it,” says Maruniak, adding that their excitement fires up Phillips in turn.

“You can tell he’s getting a lot back from the students. At the end of class, he’s pumped up,” he says.

But his time and enthusiasm are not the only reasons students flock to Phillips’ classes. They also appreciate the high expectations he sets for learning.

Stacey Sudholt met Phillips her freshman year at MU. She says she realized early on that Phillips was a teacher she did not want to disappoint. His high expectations of her, she says, inspired her to want to “rise to the challenge” and take more initiative in her own learning.

“Most teachers can lecture to a class, but it takes one with a unique skill for teaching to inspire a student to want to research and learn something on her own for no reason other than to learn. That is a quality that Dr. Phillips inspired in me,” she says.

Max Vale was similarly motivated by Phillips. He took histology and microscopic anatomy as a senior. He recalls how all students were required to meet individually with Phillips after every exam to discuss successes and areas for improvement. While these meetings started off with discussions about the exam, he says that invariably they’d end talking about Vale’s future educational and career goals.

“For me, these meetings provided constant motivation to push myself further in histology and foresight into opportunities that would be essential for my success in medical school,” he says.

Professor Steve Alexander says that Phillips’ success and popularity as a teacher boil down to two things: an extraordinary passion for, and dedication to, teaching coupled with a keen sense of what is needed and what works.

“He is simply a great teacher,” adds Alexander.

Phillips, who joined the faculty at MU in 1986, is the recipient of many awards for teaching and advising. He has received the William T. Kemper Fellowship for Teaching Excellence, the Blue Chalk and Purple Chalk Awards, the Outstanding Greek Faculty Award, and the Excellence in Education Award. In 2007, he was named “Favorite MU Faculty Mentor” by the College of Arts and Science Student Council.

As this year’s recipient of the Shutz Award, Phillips will receive a $3000 award and a banquet will be held in his honor. Phillips will be expected to give a public lecture on a topic of his choice following the banquet.

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