This is one classroom disruption that’s actually welcomed by administrators, students -- and especially the instructor. Cory Berkland, associate professor of chemical and petroleum engineering and pharmaceutical chemistry, got a surprise visit Thursday afternoon from a group that included KU Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little and Dean of Engineering Stuart Bell. The “surprise patrol” interrupted Berkland’s class at the Multidisciplinary Research Building on KU’s West Campus to present him with a W.T. Kemper Fellowship.
“I should probably thank all of you here (in class). If it wasn’t for people to teach, then we wouldn’t have an opportunity to be good teachers,” Berkland said to his students and the assembled crowd. “I want to thank all my group, and all the support they’ve offered over the years. Any recognition should go to them…thanks to all the administration and everyone who’s made this possible.”
The Kemper fellowships come with a cash award and recognize outstanding teachers and advisers at KU as determined by a seven-member selection committee.
Since Berkland arrived at KU six years ago, engineering and pharmacy students focused on biomedical engineering have recognized him as an innovative, intellectually stimulating teacher. Undergraduate and graduate students alike give high marks to Berkland’s class discussions and his use of multimedia presentations or other demonstrations to relate complex concepts to their daily lives.
For example, he introduces the concepts of work and heat in an undergraduate thermodynamics class with a simple demonstration. He rolls a chair on casters containing a student volunteer across the classroom, returns the chair with student to the starting point and asks if work was done on the chair. After the students have debated his question, Berkland offers a Web animation of a motor that does work and generates heat, even though it starts and stops in the same place. In one of his graduate courses, Berkland has students prepare mock grant proposals to hone their skills in presenting, defending and testing a unique research idea.
He leads the undergraduate research program in pharmaceutical chemistry, working with 10 top scholars. He has advised the research and dissertation projects of 19 postdoctoral fellows, 15 graduate students and more than 35 undergraduates. Several of his graduate students have earned awards in local and national competitions and many of the undergraduates were included as co-authors of published research. Berkland has also inaugurated a new educational program sponsored by the National Science Foundation called Education through Outreach in collaboration with Lawrence High School faculty that will have regional and national impact. Designed to foster a progression of prospective science, engineering and mathematics students, the collaborative program involves middle school to postdoctoral students.
One student wrote in his evaluation, “Overall, Berkland is a cool dude. He is clear/understandable with a tough course. Enjoyed coming to his lectures 10x more than others.”
Now in their 15th year, the annual Kemper awards have been supported by gifts totaling $650,000 from the William T. Kemper Foundation (Commerce Bank, trustee) and $650,000 in matching funds from KU Endowment.