by Laurie Krasin
Michael Jurmu, Ph.D., UW-Fond du Lac geography and geology professor, is one of four recipients of the UW System’s 2012 Alliant Energy Underkofler Excellence in Teaching Award.
This prestigious award recognizes extraordinary teaching at UW System institutions within Alliant Energy’s service area. A $3,500 award is presented to recipients, funded by an endowment from Alliant Energy. He is the second professor at UW-Fond du Lac to receive the Underkofler award. Sayeed Payesteh, economics professor, received the award in 1998.
“I’m so honored,” said Jurmu. “There are so many extremely talented instructors in our UW schools. It is overwhelming that I would be considered worthy of an award for teaching.”
Jurmu has been a member of the UW-Fond du Lac faculty since 1999 and teaches five to six classes per year. He has served on numerous committees at UW-Fond du Lac including six years as campus representative on the UW Colleges Senate. He has received Kaplan Awards for significant and innovative instruction and service to students in 2001, 2006 and 2008.
As the first person in his family to earn not only a bachelor’s degree, but also earn a master’s degree and a Ph.D., Jurmu had many of the same experiences that his students currently have. “I began at a two-year school right after high school and was also employed full-time as a designer/draftsman,” he said. “My classes were selected to fit my work schedule.”
He left school for a while, but returned at the age of 28, as a non-traditional student working full time to pay for school. “I always keep this in mind when I think about the types of situations my students are dealing with.”
Approximately 30 percent of UW-Fond du Lac students are non-traditional age students and many are a first generation college student in their family.
“As much as I would like to think all students are as excited about learning as I am, their learning is purely their own for whatever reason they have,” said Jurmu. “I’m here to facilitate that learning as best I can and hopefully spark something inside them to excel.”
Jurmu is very involved in the local community and often welcomes school groups and clubs into his classroom lab at UW-Fond du Lac to explore the geosciences.
“This is a well-deserved honor for Dr. Jurmu,” said UW-Fond du Lac Dean and CEO John Short. “He engages students both in and out of the classroom and is a leader in involving students in service-learning in the community.”
Since 2006, students in Jurmu’s Weather and Climate class become the teachers by using fun activities to teach youth at the local Boys & Girls Club after school program. He collaborated recently with the Children’s Museum of Fond du Lac as UW-Fond du Lac students helped lead a Scientific Saturday event investigating science topics.
“The service-learning piece of some of his courses really allows students to become involved in the Fond du Lac community beyond the borders of our campus,” said M. Geoffrey Murray, UW-Fond du Lac 2011-12 Student Government Association president and a former student in Jurmu’s classroom. “This can lead to more civically engaged students who give back to their community going forward in their lives.”
Former and current students wrote letters of recommendation for Jurmu in support of this nomination. “They overwhelmingly describe him as not only a great teacher, but also as a role model and mentor,” said Short. “Students have expressed how much they love his enthusiasm for the subjects he teaches. His classroom engagement along with his community involvement is recognized and is valued by the students.”
Jurmu says his approach to instruction is simple; give students an organized set of activities with specific instructions and feedback that help them better understand a topic. “Learning shouldn’t be a ‘paper chase’ where students have to guess what the instructor wants them to know,” he said.
“I also try to get to know a little about each of my students so I can have a rapport with them that I can then use to make them feel more comfortable in asking questions and become better engaged in their learning.”
His teaching style works. When being nominated for this award, Jurmu didn’t want to put anyone on the spot by asking for recommendations. So, he just announced in his classes that if students would like to, they could write a letter of nomination. “I was overwhelmed by the number of letters I got,” said Jurmu. “I was very touched by this. What was even more emotional for me was when I read the letters and realized how much my students appreciated my work. I got a little choked up.”
The Underkofler awards are given by the Alliant Energy Foundation as a tribute to the company’s long-time senior executive, James R. Underkofler, a strong supporter of excellence in undergraduate teaching.