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Latha Ramchand, University of Missouri provost and executive vice chancellor for academic affairs, and Steve Sowers, CEO, Missouri Community Markets, has awarded a 2023 William T. Kemper Fellowship for Teaching Excellence to Beth Whitaker. Whitaker is an assistant teaching professor in the MU College of Education and Human Development.
Chris Riley-Tillman, dean of the MU College of Education and Human Development, joined other administrators surprising Whitaker by honoring her with the fellowship, which includes a $15,000 check. Kemper Fellowships are awarded to five outstanding teachers at the University of Missouri each year.
The William T. Kemper Fellowships for Teaching Excellence were established in 1991 with a $500,000 gift. Kemper, a 1926 MU graduate, was a well-known civic leader in Kansas City until his death in 1989. His 52-year career in banking included top positions at banks in Missouri, Kansas and Oklahoma. Commerce Bank manages the trust fund.
Beth Whitaker biography
As an assistant teaching professor, Whitaker’s approach to teaching and learning is grounded in research with student engagement at the forefront. Her purpose is to help students see how their personal intelligence and skills will allow their vision of becoming an educational leader come to fruition. Cultivating a learning community that fosters trust and respect for one another is her top priority, and it shows.
Since Fall 2017, Whitaker has taught 42 total courses in the MU College of Education and Human Development, receiving a perfect 5.0 on course evaluations in all courses except for one, where she received a 4.9.
“She makes an incredible investment in time to serve students inside and outside her classroom,” said Sarah Diem, department chair for the Department of Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis. “She is an inspirational teacher and mentor, and we need more people like her serving our MU students.”
Whitaker is often requested as a guest speaker by school districts because of her expertise, resulting in her co-facilitating the Future Leaders Academy for Boonville R-1 School District. Her outreach allows her to connect with administrators across Missouri, creating professional development experiences that can guide teaching in the classroom as she prepares future school leaders at MU.
As program coordinator for the MU PK-12 Educational Leadership and Administration Program, Whitaker oversees all aspects of the program, including managing curricula, ensuring state and national standards are met across all courses, coordinating student admissions, communicating with program stakeholders, marketing the program, and facilitating intra-program synergies to optimize the scope and quality of the program. Her efforts have helped colleagues in addition to her students.
“As a program leader in PK-12, she changed the conversations in our department by adding to each meeting agenda the topic ‘Top Teaching Moment.’ Now, we never leave a meeting without sharing ideas from our classes, discussing struggles and showcasing best practices in higher education,” said Lisa Dorner, an associate professor in the MU College of Education and Human Development. “From these short exchanges, I have learned how to use new technology, instituted new activities in my classes and adapted the way I use Canvas to communicate with my students.”
Whitaker earned the Golden Apple Teaching Award from the MU College of Education and Human Development in 2018 as well as the Outstanding College Teaching Award from the MU College of Education and Human Development in 2021. Her impact has been felt by many former students, including Jordan Anderson and Jamie Lazechko.
“She taught me to ask the hard questions of equity for all students and let us know that it was ok to do things differently for the good of the order. Not only was the content she was sharing changing my view of education, but her character traits as a human and educator forever changed who I wanted to be,” Anderson said. “I now want to make an impact on the students, staff and families that I come into contact with like Dr. Whitaker did for me.”
Whitaker earned a certificate in effective college instruction from the Association of College and University Educators (ACUE) and from the American Council of Education (ACE). She also serves on the advisory board for the MU Teaching for Learning Center and each academic year, since 2019, she has offered a series of professional development workshops on Teaching the Teachers for the Missouri Leadership Academy.
“Dr. Whitaker has a way of making everyone she encounters feel like family and takes genuine interest in what you have to say,” Lazechko said. “She is wise, compassionate and sees potential in every individual she meets and makes you believe that you can be better. It was for this reason that I chose to pursue my master’s degree at Mizzou.”
Whitaker earned a bachelor’s degree in elementary education in 1982 from Central Methodist College, a master’s degree in educational administration in 1986 at MU and a doctoral degree in educational leadership in 1997 from Indiana State University.