Published on November 17, 2011 by Sean Flynt  

Samford University psychology professor and department chair Stephen Chew has been named the 2011 U. S. Professor of the Year for Master’s Universities and Colleges by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.

Dr. Chew was recognized by the foundation at the annual U.S. Professors of the Year Awards Program in Washington, D.C., Nov. 17.  The Carnegie program salutes the most outstanding undergraduate instructors in the country, and is the only national program to recognize excellence in undergraduate teaching and mentoring.

Samford President Andrew Westmoreland described the award as “the most prestigious teaching designation in American higher education.”

The Carnegie Foundation has been the primary sponsor of the program since 1982.  The Council for the Advancement and Support of Education (CASE) began the program in 1981.  All undergraduate teachers in the U. S. are eligible for the award. Entries are judged by top U.S. educators and other active participants in education.

National U.S. Professor of the Year Awards go to the top professors in four categories—baccalaureate colleges, community colleges, doctoral and research universities and master’s universities and colleges. The national winners each receive a $5,000 cash award.

In his luncheon remarks, Chew described what he jokingly termed "the slippery slope to effective teaching." He recalled the three hours of teacher education he had as a graduate student, which included the percentages of As, Bs and Cs alleged to define a good teacher.  He dutifully transcribed the "magic percentages" and kept that piece of paper in his desk. "After a few years of teaching," he said, "I confronted the question that I think all faculty face at some point---a question that marks a critical juncture in their career---'I wonder what my students are learning?'" Chew said many faculty members turn away from that fundamental question, possibly because they fear the answer. Those who embrace it, he said, uncover other questions and begin to devote themselves to finding answers that help their students learn.  "And that is how, one day, I gave up on the magic percentages and threw the paper away," he said.   

“Once you adopt the attitude that the measure of teaching effectiveness is student learning, a lot of teaching’s most difficult conundrums become solvable,” Chew said. “You learn the difference between teaching that makes it easy for students to learn and teaching that makes it easy for students to make a good grade; you give up moving from teaching fad to teaching fad and start to develop knowledge that will move the whole teaching enterprise forward; you give up the idea that good students make for good classes; and you realize that great teachers can create great students, and great students, like Amy Fineburg (a former Chew student), can inspire and create great teachers.”

From Dallas, Texas, Chew has been at Samford since 1993.  He holds a bachelor’s degree from the University of Texas and Ph.D. from the University of Minnesota.

Samford's administration was represented at the awards program by board of trustees chair Clark Watson, president Westmoreland, provost and executive vice president Brad Creed, Howard College of Arts and Sciences dean David Chapman and former Howard College of Arts and Sciences dean Rod Davis, who was serving when Chew joined the Samford faculty.

"Dr. Chew's honor is well deserved," said Dean Chapman. "Students love his classes for all the right reasons: he is knowledgeable in his discipline, innovative in his approach to teaching, and committed to helping his students achieve their full potential." Former Dean Davis and Assistant Provost Nancy Biggio echoed Chapman's praise, also noting Chew's leadership among Samford's faculty and the respect he enjoys throughout the nation. 

The Carnegie honor is the latest in an impressive list of recognitions for Chew. He earned Samford’s John H. Buchanan Award for Excellence in Classroom Teaching award in 1999. In 2001, the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching named him Alabama Professor of the Year. The American Psychological Association honored Chew with its 2005 Robert S. Daniel Teaching Excellence Award, recognizing him as the nation’s best psychology teacher at a four-year college. Earlier this year, Chew completed a practical and unique video series on the psychology of study. Since its launch this fall, messages have poured in to let him know that the series is being utilized throughout the nation, and has even been captioned for hearing-impaired students.

Also in his comments at the award ceremony, Chew thanked his own teaching mentors, including Gerry Dalby of Carter High School in Dallas, Texas, Bob Young and Janet Spence from the University of Texas, Jim Jenkins and Herb Pick from the University of Minnesota and his own father, Ju-Nam Chew, who was present at the ceremony alongside Chew's spouse, Daisy, son, Michael and brother and sister-in-law Lawrence Chew and Dannette Lowry.

Samford is a leading Christian university offering undergraduate programs grounded in the liberal arts with an array of nationally recognized graduate and professional schools. Founded in 1841, Samford is the 87th-oldest institution of higher learning in the United States. Samford enrolls 5,791 students from 49 states, Puerto Rico and 16 countries in its 10 academic schools: arts, arts and sciences, business, divinity, education, health professions, law, nursing, pharmacy and public health. Samford fields 17 athletic teams that compete in the tradition-rich Southern Conference and ranks 6th nationally for its Graduation Success Rate among all NCAA Division I schools.