No one knows for sure how many chemistry students battle self-doubt as college freshmen.
But in Greg Tschumper – recipient of the 2008-09 Cora Lee Graham Award for Outstanding Teacher of Freshmen in the College of Liberal Arts – such students have a champion who believes in them even when they may not believe in themselves.
“Upon asking me to conduct computational chemistry research with him, I expressed that I knew I simply was not smart enough,” wrote one student nominating Tschumper for the award. “With complete gentleness, he responded with an answer that will remain with me for the rest of my life: ‘Sometimes determination means more than ability.’ This concept has guided and shaped my life since the day the words left his mouth.”
Winners of the Graham Award are chosen by a public call for nominations and a committee selection process. Tschumper, associate professor of chemistry, is to receive $1,000 and will be recognized Saturday (May 9, 2009) during UM’s commencement activities.
“College science classes can be very intimidating for freshmen,” said Glenn Hopkins, liberal arts dean. “Dr. Tschumper is able to combine holding high standards for his freshmen students with giving them personal attention that eases their fears and enhances their learning.”
Tschumper knows he has a reputation for being a hard teacher, which makes the award that much more surprising for him.
“I have extremely high expectations, and I let my students know that from day one,” he said. “I’m pretty hard on my students. I put them through the wringer, but I do think they appreciate that they’re being challenged.”
Charles Hussey, chemistry chair, said Tschumper blends high standards and a solid rapport with his students to get the best out of them.
“He is very student-centered and approachable,” Hussey said. “Students have confidence he’s looking out for their best interests.”
In 1984, Cora Lee Graham of Union City, Tenn., established an endowment at UM and directed that proceeds from her gift be used to “help retain better professors who teach the freshman classes” in the College of Liberal Arts. Criteria for the Graham Award include excellence in class instruction, intellectual stimulation of students and concern for students’ welfare.
Tschumper earned his doctoral degree from the University of Georgia in 1999, after completing undergraduate work at Winona State University in 1995. He has completed postdoctoral fellowships in Switzerland and at Emory University. As for his love for teaching, he came by it honestly. His mother spent more than 40 years as a teacher and administrator at the K-12 level.
“I earned a healthy respect for teaching at a very early age because I grew up knowing that getting sent to the principal’s office really meant getting sent to Mom’s office,” Tschumper joked.
“Dr. Tschumper also has a very clear understanding of complex chemical concepts and has the gift to explain these concepts in simple language so that his students do not become discouraged,” Hussey said. “He works hard to make his classes interesting and relevant so that his students want to learn chemistry.”
And in the process, Tschumper helps his students grow up.
“I’ve found that by making my expectations very clear and treating the students like adults that they quickly shed the high school mentality of ‘It is your job to teach me,’ ” Tschumper said. “They realize ‘It is also my job to learn.'”
To learn more about the College of Liberal Arts, visit https://www.olemiss.edu/libarts/.