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MU College of Arts and Science and College of Engineering professors awarded 2018 Kemper Fellowships for Teaching Excellence

March 23rd, 2018

Story Contact: Austin Fitzgerald, 573-882-6217,

COLUMBIA, Mo. – University of Missouri Chancellor Alexander Cartwright and Commerce Bank Chairman and CEO Teresa Maledy today awarded three of the 2018 William T. Kemper Fellowships for Teaching Excellence. Awards were presented to Carrie Duncan, assistant professor of religious studies in the MU College of Arts and Science; Ray Ronci, teaching professor of English in the College of Arts and Science; and Carlos Sun, professor of civil and environmental engineering in the College of Engineering.

Cartwright, Maledy, and a group of professors, administrators and staff surprised Duncan, Ronci and Sun by honoring them with the fellowships, which include a $10,000 check to each professor. Kemper Fellowships are awarded to five outstanding teachers at the University of Missouri each year.

This year is the 28th anniversary of the William T. Kemper Fellowships for Teaching Excellence, which 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.

ATTACHED: Duncan, Ronci and Sun Bios

Carrie E. Duncan
Professor of Religious Studies, MU College of Arts and Science
MU faculty member since 2012

Carrie E. Duncan aims to help students “better understand why they believe the things they do.” As a professor in the Department of Religious Studies, Duncan has taught thought-provoking courses on topics such as the Hebrew Bible, the New Testament, and literature and history of Ancient Egypt. She hopes students gain from her classes a realization that beliefs and attitudes are influenced by history and culture. Duncan accomplishes this goal through readings, evidence-based debates, mock trials and small group discussions.

When she was still new to MU, Duncan appeared as a guest lecturer in 2013 for the Humanities Sequence offered by the Honors College. Her presentation on the Gospel of Mark instantly garnered the respect of faculty, staff and students. She has since been asked to return as a lecturer and discussion section teacher and has served on the final exam committee for related courses.

Duncan oftentimes incorporates images from pop culture as a way to relate to students in explaining course concepts. For example, students might encounter a Betty White spoof of singer Miley Cyrus’ “Wrecking Ball” music video to help convey the importance of “frames of references.”

“This strategy is typical of Carrie’s teaching style,” said Rachel Harper, associate director of the MU Honors College. “She meets the students where they are without talking down to them or lowering her expectations for serious engagement.”

Duncan is a tough but popular teacher. She enforces strict attendance policies and requires students to participate in class discussions, even in larger lecture halls. Not only does she encourage students to push beyond many of their perceived familiarities with specific texts and dig deeper, she also empowers them to realize and reach their academic potential.

Duncan served as a mentor to Daniel Tallent while he was completing his second master’s degree. When she took sabbatical to focus on writing a book during the 2015-2016 school year, Duncan did not think twice about asking Tallent to teach a course in her stead.

“I was unsure whether I would be able to teach the class successfully given all my other academic obligations,” Tallent said. “Dr. Duncan didn’t give up on me. She met with me after my initial refusal to express her confidence in my abilities and remind me what a valuable opportunity it was to teach these classes at a major university like MU.”

From this conversation, Tallent agreed to teach and said it has been one of the most rewarding experiences of his educational career.

Duncan has a positive impact on students’ experiences both inside and outside the classroom, including on-site archaeological digs in collaboration with the University of Tennessee-Knoxville. Erin Darby, co-director of the “Ayn Gharandal Archaeological Project,” has been impressed by Duncan’s commitment to field education.

“Carrie has invested time and energy in students from over 15 different academic institutions, ranging all over North America, just through ‘Ayn Gharandal’ alone,” Darby said. “She has led students on field trips throughout Jordan and trained them in archaeological excavation and recording.”

Duncan earned her bachelor of arts degree in archaeology from Tufts University; a master’s of arts in near eastern languages and civilizations from Harvard University; and master’s of arts and doctoral degrees in religious studies from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She also provides public education for programs like Saturday Morning Science, the Archaeological Institute of America and the MU Retirees Association.

Ray Ronci
Teaching Professor of English, MU College of Arts and Science
MU faculty member since 1999

Ray Ronci cares. In decades of experience as a professor, his abiding concern for the welfare and growth of his students has ensured that as the world has evolved, his classes have evolved as well. Having taught everything from composition to Buddhist literature to “Rethinking Literacy in the Digital Age,” Ronci is always striving to adapt his teaching to provide the maximum benefit for his students. Whether this means tweaking course plans to better suit a classroom full of education majors or reading literature aloud to immerse his students in the art they are studying, his enduring enthusiasm for teaching is evident.

Students consistently say Ronci’s classes affect them on a personal level, profoundly shaping their understanding of literature and its connections to their daily lives. Alexandra Socarides, chair of the Department of English and a Kemper Fellow, highlights Ronci’s ability to match high academic expectations with deep empathy for his students and their futures.

“Ray is a teacher of great rigor and great compassion, two things that we don’t often see referenced in the same breath,” Socarides said. “His ability to teach some of the hardest and most confusing works of literature while at the same time keeping the complex lives of his students front and center is a talent that few teachers have. Ray demands greatness from his students—in the work they produce, in the attention they give to that work, in the standards they hold for themselves—and in doing so he helps create better human beings.”

Haris Fazlić, a former student of Ronci and now a graduate student at Tulane University, recalls Ronci’s talent for performing poetry in an immersive fashion that breathes life into the words his students read on the page.

“The best example I can think of is Ray Ronci standing in front of a dozen or so people reciting Ginsberg’s ‘Howl’ in its entirety. Describing the experience to the uninitiated is impossible, but not one person in that room was left unmoved. The changing levels of inflection, accentuation and speed redefined the way I thought poetry could be performed. The sheer impact of the verse left some stunned, but the veracity with which Prof. Ronci explained every detail afterwards made it feel even more powerful. It was the first time I could physically feel myself being taught—that it was happening right before my eyes and I knew it. A poem can certainly be read (I still read ‘Howl’ from time to time), but hearing it performed was unforgettable; I still remember every sway, screech and pause for breath.”

Francesca Cudney, who is majoring in secondary education at Mizzou, found her outlook broadened by Ronci’s emphasis on relating literature to the world outside the classroom.

“Dr. Ronci introduced many of us to new subject matter and inspired us to look at things in a whole new light,” Cudney said. “I enrolled in the professor’s 20th century American literature class, postmodern American poetry, in the fall of last year and was drawn in by his wisdom and the experiences he was always sharing. It was a pleasure sitting through his class, as he often made many connections from what we were learning to the outside world.”

David Read, professor and former chair of the Department of English at Mizzou, considers the breadth and style of Ronci’s course offerings to be singular among his peers.

“Dr. Ronci’s role in the English department is unique,” Read said. “He teaches a cluster of undergraduate courses that have been extremely popular for many years and involve a very personal approach to content and delivery that has not, and I would say cannot, be duplicated or even approximated elsewhere in the department’s curriculum. His effect on the students who enroll in his courses is immense; indeed, for many of those students he is the instructor who most vividly represents the quality and impact of their educational experience at MU.”

Ronci is committed to helping guide his students through the increasing commotion of a digital world. Some of his courses now include texts that delve into the neuroscience of the reading brain, and he encourages students to think of any kind of message, from advertisements to hairstyles to footwear, as a text to be read. He also makes sure he is available outside class for any reason, whether his students have questions about assignments or simply want to talk.

Ronci earned a bachelor of arts degree in poetry from Emerson College; a master of arts degree from the University of Colorado; and a doctoral degree from the University of Nebraska. He has previously received the Mary Lago Teaching Award, the Purple Chalk Award for Excellence in Teaching and the Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Education from Mizzou. He also has received several awards for his poetry. In addition to being the MU Buddhist Association Faculty Advisor, he is also a member of the Composition Committee and the Undergraduate Studies Committee in the Department of English.

Carlos Sun
Professor of Engineering, MU College of Engineering
MU faculty member since 2001

For the past 20 years, Professor Carlos Sun has been dedicated to inspiring his students through passion and creativity. His goal has always been to develop well-rounded graduates whose academic scholarship is matched by a commitment to serve the broader community. Sun takes great pride in his outreach efforts to provide an opportunity for both students and the public to gain insight into the work of transportation engineers.

“Through his encouragement, I and countless others became involved in civil engineering transportation research,” said Kristin Hofstetter, a 2016 MU graduate who now works for McClure Engineering Co. “With this program, Dr. Sun teaches independent learning and regularly emphasizes that student researchers can make positive changes in the world; he often states the goal of our research is to save lives.”

Sun has transformed the classroom environment by incorporating projects that students submit to national competitions. In his Intelligent Transportation class, Sun requires his students to submit essays to the national paper competition. In 2015, one of his students, Christopher Fitzpatrick, won the national Intelligent Transportation Society of America competition with a paper on autonomous truck platooning. Sun also requires the students in his airport engineering class to submit proposals to the Federal Aviation Administration airport design competition, where his student teams placed second and third in 2011 and 2013, respectively.

Currently Sun is working on creating the Mizzou Museum of Engineering in an effort to create a venue to showcase the prevalence and importance of engineering in smart communities and to recruit students to science, technology, engineering and math fields. In addition, Sun is collaborating with the Society of Women Engineers on a “hidden figures” exhibit to showcase contributions of African-American women in the space program.

“Great teachers go beyond imparting knowledge and technique. As mentors, they invest in the long-term future of their students,” said Bimal Balakrishnan, an associate professor in architectural studies who, along with graduate students, has worked with Sun on multiple research projects over the last three years.

“Dr. Sun brings an entrepreneurial spirit to most of his projects and provides excellent experiential learning opportunities for his students,” Balakrishnan said. “I have seen firsthand how he instills creative confidence in his students by encouraging them to experiment, helping them navigate failures and sharing credit for their successes.”

Two of Sun’s former students were Fulbright Scholars from Afghanistan. Now, Abdullah Habibzai and Shabnam Habibzai are husband and wife, and they both returned to Afghanistan after graduating with degrees in civil engineering. Abdullah currently serves as the acting mayor of Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan with a population of 6 million. His wife, Shabnam, is a transport specialist with the Asian Development Bank, operating a $4 billion portfolio in Afghanistan’s transport sector. At Mizzou, they took classes with Sun in transportation legal issues, advanced intelligent transportation systems, transportation safety and transportation networks.

“Dr. Sun’s personal effort in engaging every student in class discussion and seminars provided a conducive environment for critical thinking, enthusiastic debate and inclusive participation,” Abdullah Habibzai said. “He is an excellent professor, a noble human being, a caring mentor and an individual who conducts himself to the highest standard of an academic environment.”

Sun reminds his students to always discuss and be aware of relevant policy and legal issues affecting engineering, and some of his students were recently selected to present in front of legislators at the nation’s capital in Washington, D.C.

“These experiences emphasize the fact that as civil engineers, we work on public projects, are accountable to the public and rely on public support,” Sun said.

In the past, Sun has won the Outstanding Teacher in Civil Engineering award in addition to the Excellence in Education award from the vice chancellor of Student Affairs. Beyond awards, Sun said the most rewarding measure of success is the accomplishments of his students.

“Employers often emphasize to me that they desire well-rounded engineers who can manage the soft aspects of engineering in addition to technical design,” Sun said. “I recall one email from a student who was in the middle of a summer internship and had just taken my legal issues class. He was amazed in seeing class issues surface in his day-to-day duties. When my students tell me how my coverage of the soft issues has helped them in their careers, it brings a smile to my face.”