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MU English Professor Awarded 2016 Kemper Fellowship for Teaching Excellence

April 6th, 2016

Story Contact: Nathan Hurst, 573-882-6217, hurstn@missouri.edu

COLUMBIA, Mo. – University of Missouri interim Chancellor Hank Foley and Commerce Bank Chairman Jim Schatz today awarded one of the 2016 William T. Kemper Fellowships for Teaching Excellence to Alexandra Socarides, an associate professor of English in the MU College of Arts and Science.

Foley, Schatz and a group of professors, administrators and staff surprised Socarides by honoring her with the Fellowship, which includes a $10,000 check. Kemper Fellowships are awarded to five outstanding teachers at the University of Missouri each year.

This year is the 26th anniversary of the first 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: Socarides Bio

Alexandra Socarides
Associate Professor
Department of English
College of Arts & Science
MU Faculty Member Since 2007

Alexandra Socarides coined the term “pedagogy of attention” to describe what motivates her teaching accomplishments. She believes in paying attention to students and in teaching them to pay attention to what they think and do. This care is central to Socarides’ teaching philosophy, which is unmatched. In return, she requires students to focus on each other, their readings and the greater world. Her students and colleagues credit her success as a professor to her dedication to providing and fostering attention.

“It is difficult to anatomize the qualities of such an extraordinary teacher, but certain themes recur in the comments about Alex: her talent for leading discussion and asking questions, her innovative methods of teaching literature and writing, the inspiration students experience in her courses, and her kindness,” said David Read, chair of the MU English department.

Those who know Socarides claim that one of her most outstanding qualities is her ability to inspire, which Read says derives from her energy and passion. From hosting workshops in her home, to assisting students in finding scholarships, to strategizing future career plans with students over coffee, Read believes Socarides places great importance in the relationships with those around her.

Aside from merely being inspired by Socarides’ generosity, students also are inspired by her scholarship and guidance on class poems, stories and novels. Students praise her ability to guide discussions and move them to deeper levels without diminishing curiosity and enthusiasm. Colleagues recognize the countless hours Socarides pours into her work.

“You can feel the excitement with which Dr. Socarides plans and teaches her lessons and the energy that she brings into class each day,” says Marek Makowski, Socarides’ former student.

Senior Associate Provost and Professor of English Patricia Okker commends Socarides for dedicating more time to commenting on student work than any other professor she knows.

“The results of this investment of time and energy have been remarkable, and that’s why, I think, her students work as hard as they do,” Okker said. “It’s because she works that hard for them.”

In addition to serving as a teacher and mentor, Socarides has designed more than 20 new courses, served on the Honors Council and the Campus Writing Board, has served as the literature coordinator director for the English department, and is currently the director of undergraduate studies.

In these roles, she has created multiple programs to improve the quality of teaching and mentorship that students receive from the English department. These include a “coffee with majors” series designed to assist students in meeting and interacting with faculty, a mentoring program for incoming English majors and multiple “careers in English” events to assist students in career planning.

“If more teachers were like her in the world, perhaps we would all appreciate the humanities a little more,” says Makowski. “Perhaps we would all be a bit smarter, a bit wiser, a bit more caring and a bit more empathetic.”

Socarides earned a bachelor’s degree in English from Bates College. She holds a master of fine arts degree in creative writing from Sarah Lawrence College and a master of arts in English from Rutgers University. In addition, Socarides holds a doctorate in English from Rutgers University and is the recipient of numerous awards, most recently the Provost’s Outstanding Junior Faculty Teaching award from the University of Missouri.

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