Samford Biology professor Lawrence Davenport, director of the university's Vulcan Materials Center for Environmental Stewardship and Education, has been honored as the 2007 Alabama Professor of the Year by The Council for Advancement and Support of Education and The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. Davenport was one of 40 educators selected from a field of more than 300 of the nation's top professors.
Samford president Andrew Westmoreland nominated Davenport for the honor. "Dr. Davenport represents the strong tradition of teaching, research, and service for which hundreds of Samford faculty members have been known," he said. " In every way, he is a credit to his discipline and an inspiration to his students and colleagues."
"This is a wonderful, incredible, overwhelming honor--definitely the highlight of my career," Davenport said upon first hearing of the honor. "I thank all the good folks who nominated me, and the CASE committee for selecting me. "But mainly I thank my many years of Samford students, who have always pushed me to excel and who share this award with me."
All undergraduate instructors in the U.S. are eligible for the Professor of the Year honor, but nominations require extensive supporting materials to demonstrate the nominee's contribution to education. Those materials must include specific letters of support from current or former undergraduate students, campus colleagues and other community or professional supporters. The nominee also must also describe his or her key contributions, including educational innovations, effective advising and mentoring, extending education beyond the classroom and contributions to peer discussions of teaching.
Davenport's nomination was supported by letters from Samford colleagues Mike Howell and Rod Davis, former students Allan Phipps and Adam Edwards and former magazine editor Suzanne Wolfe.
Allan Phipps is a high school teacher in Florida and the 2007 Sea World/Busch Gardens/Fujifilm National Environmental Educator of the Year. "I give a lot of credit for my own teaching success to Dr. Davenport's modeling of the ideal professor; someone who is enthusiastic, extremely knowledgeable, personable, and someone who makes learning fun," Phipps said. "Dr. D. is truly dedicated to his students, to education, and to Samford University. I can think of no other professor more deserving of this prestigious award."
Davenport similarly inspired Adam Edwards and helped him find a graduate program in ethnobotany. Now returned to Alabama and working as an Environmental Scientist with the Alabama Department of Environmental Management, Edwards emphasized how his professor's dedication continues to pay dividends for the state. "Dr. Davenport was a prominent influence in molding my ethic of stewardship," he said, "and I am proud to be able to return that service to my home state as a legacy of his instruction, guidance, and personal investment.
Suzanne Wolfe, Editor in Chief of Alabama Heritage magazine from 1986-2001, praised Davenport's sharing of his passion for biology through his ongoing column for the magazine. In that popular column, she said, "Davenport teaches his audience things they never knew they wanted to know. "Thousands of our readers have learned about the deadly oleander, the rare Cahaba Lily, the giant swallowtail butterfly, and the sneaky trapdoor spider, among hundreds of other topics."
Wolfe also noted that Davenport has made major contributions to conservation in the state. "His extensive research on the Cahaba Lily and its fragile habitat has brought national attention to Alabama's unique natural resources and led directly to the creation in 2002 of the Cahaba River National Wildlife Refuge, a three thousand acre site in Bibb County," she noted.
Rod Davis, English professor and former dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, praised his colleague's contributions to the university and community. He also noted that Davenport won Samford's John H. Buchanan Award for Excellence in Classroom Teaching (1991) and Student Government Association Outstanding Faculty Award (1989,) both of which were based on student votes. "Davenport is a great choice," Davis said, "and I am absolutely delighted for him–and us!"
Retired Samford biology professor Mike Howell was Davenport's colleague for thirty years working side-by-side with him on scientific articles, field studies and in the classroom. "You really get to know the integrity, commitment and character of a fellow professor under those conditions," Howell said. "I can only say that the CASE award committee made a selection in Larry Davenport that shows that they have done their homework. "They have selected one of Alabama's best and most revered professors.
The Alabama legislature has been so impressed with Davenport's contributions to education and environmental stewardship that it designated May 27, 2006 as Professor Lawrence J. Davenport Day in the state.
Samford professors have received Professor of the Year honors four times since the program began in 1981. Other Samford recipients include Psychology professor Stephen Chew, Business professor Thomas Woolley and former Business professor and interim School of Business dean Marlene Reed
The Council for Advancement and Support of Education is the largest international association of education institutions, serving more than 3,300 universities, colleges, schools, and related organizations in 55 countries. CASE is the leading resource for professional development, information, and standards in the fields of educational fundraising, communications, marketing and alumni relations.