Three Receive Josiah Meigs Teaching Professorships

Three of UGA’s outstanding teachers were named Josiah Meigs Teaching professors at the Spring Faculty Recognition Banquet: Charles Atwood, Professor of Chemistry; Mark Compton, Associate Professor of Poultry Science; and Michael E. Wetzstein, Professor of Agricultural and Applied Economics.  The professorship recognizes excellence in instruction at the undergraduate and graduate levels. Meigs Professors receive a permanent salary increase of $6,000 and a fund of $1,000 for academic support. The professorship is named for Josiah Meigs, who in 1801 succeeded Abraham Baldwin as president—and sole professor—of Georgia’s fledgling state university.

When Charles Atwood came to UGA in 1995, he dramatically changed the teaching of freshman chemistry in the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences, turning it into a much-admired program. In 1994, the freshman program looked much as it had for decades: a traditional lecture format, multiple-choice pencil and paper exams and labs that were badly in need of modernization. Today, the more-than 2,000 students who take the course each semester have access to some of the most innovative and successful teaching ideas and labs anywhere.

Beginning with the use of PowerPoint presentations, Atwood began introducing cutting-edge multimedia tools to show students the intricacies and beauties of chemistry. He also began assigning problems and questions in his lectures that students had to work out on their on. These “you do it” problems dramatically deepened the students’ ability to deal with the information before them. Now, he uses wireless instant messaging devices so students with questions can text-message them to a graduate student, who replies immediately. If enough of the same questions are asked, Atwood stops class to clarify the point.

His engagement with students is more than technological; it’s personal, from remembering the names of the students in his 350-student classes to regularly inviting students to his home or out for dinner. One colleague agrees with the many student evaluations that rate Atwood among the best teachers they’ve ever had: “I feel confident that he will continue to provide leadership to his peers as well as to those who aspire to become instructors as together they work to assure student success through successful teaching.”

Mark Compton, who teaches avian anatomy and physiology, takes the opposite tack when it comes to technology, embracing the old-fashioned chalkboard. And, his students love it.

“He wasn’t into all the new PowerPoint presentation type stuff,” said one student about Compton’s chalkboard drawings. “It was more personal, drawing your attention in and allowing for participation. Being more of a visual learner myself, I was fascinated with his drawings describing pathways and mechanisms of physiology. My attention never left that blackboard until the end of class, when not a smidgen of it had been left uncovered.”

Others attest to Compton’s effective use of hands-on exercises to reinforce what he teaches in lectures. He uses a mix of cutting-edge CD study aids, a fun quiz show contest and comprehensive labs to provide the highest quality educational experience for his students. Compton’s teaching philosophy is simple: “Come to class, take good notes, ask questions, review your notes periodically and you will do fine in this course.”He knows that getting students to do all of these isn’t easy. However, his enthusiasm and dedication to his students make them want to come to class every session.

 “Students describe Dr. Compton as ‘electric,’ ” said Mike Lacy, head of the poultry science department in the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, in his nomination letter. “His enthusiasm in the classroom is legendary.”

The third awardee, Michael Wetzstein, boasts some impressive stats. He’s authored a textbook on microeconomic theory adopted by MIT and Harvard; taught more than 2,200 students (1,800 undergraduates) in 12 different courses in his 30-year tenure at UGA; been a Fulbright Teaching Scholar and Open Society Institute Scholar; directed four award-winning student articles; and written more than 70 journal articles, just over half with students.

However, what sets Wetzstein apart from other faculty members is his day-to-day passion for his students and his field. Anna Kelso, one of his former undergraduate students, wrote that his “approach to teaching is a unique blend of high energy, constant interaction and humor. Maintaining a constant flow of dialogue with his students, I found I was able to stay with him as he described complex concepts and economic models. . . Because he invested so much of himself into each class, I felt inspired to do the same.”

“When dropping in to speak with Michael, I would often find him reading and researching material for upcoming lectures, even though he had taught the class 20 times before,” wrote T. Jeffrey Price, who completed his doctorate under Wetzstein and now works for the Virginia Department of Transportation. “Michael Wetzstein has both the gift and passion for teaching.”

Wetzstein’s dedication to agricultural economics also has drawn notice outside of his classroom. Octavio Ramirez, head of the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences’ department of agricultural and applied economics, wrote that Wetzstein’s teaching skills and devotion to student learning are widely renowned in the profession.
“His scientific credentials and scholarly accomplishments easily place him in the top 5 percent of our profession,” he said.