Friar Society

Robert Duke, professor from the Butler School of Music and director of the Center for Music Learning, received a $25,000 award for the Friar Centennial Teaching Fellowship.
Photo Credit: Xintong Guo | Daily Texan Staff

The Friar Society, the oldest honor society on campus, selected music professor Robert Duke as the recipient of the Friar Centennial Teaching Fellowship (FCTF) on Wednesday.

 Each school year, the Friar Society asks the student body for nominations of professors they think are deserving of a $25,000 award from the society. Duke was one of 179 professors nominated by students this year. 

Duke has taught at UT for 30 years. Currently, he is head of the Music and Human Learning program in the Butler School of Music and director of the Center for Music Learning.

 Led by a trumpet player performing “The Eyes of Texas,” members of the Friar Society, former students, fellow professors and family members walked into Duke’s 10 a.m. class to present him the award.

“I have won a number of teaching awards on this campus, but this is the only one I’ve won that was presented in a room full of my students, and that makes this the best in the world,” Duke said when presented the award.

According to Nicole Kruijs, FCTF co-chair and public health and Plan II senior, the society selected Duke because he received multiple student and staff recommendations and demonstrated excellence as a professor.

“I reached out to some professors that I know, who I’d already known, and I asked them, ‘Hey, who deserves the award this year?’” Kruijs said. “They all pointed to Dr. Robert Duke. They all said he’s just incredible, [as are] the things he’s doing.”

 Sai Gourisankar, FCTF co-chair and chemical engineering and Plan II senior, said he sat in on one of Duke’s classes to see his teaching firsthand before making the decision to present the award.

 “He cares about his students deeply,” Gourisankar said. “He knows how to get across to students, and he’s invested in the undergraduate and graduate population.”

Past recipients of the award include social work professor Lori Holleran Steiker, sociology professor Sheldon Ekland-Olson and mathematics professor James Vick.

 Duke said he is honored to receive the award, especially given its past recipients.

“What a wonderful thing,” Duke said. “I was surprised. The thing that’s nice about this is that the previous recipients of this award are all the people I respect most on this campus. And to be in their company is a real privilege.”

Music studies senior Courtney Ham, one of Duke’s current students, said Duke stands out among her other professors.

“I think that he’s really tenacious,” Ham said. “[He has us] think about how we can learn as individuals and how we can make other people learn.”

Dr. Sheldon Ekland-Olson is the 2013 recipient of the Friar Centennial Teaching Fellowship, a student-nominated award given to an undergraduate professor who has demonstrated excellence in teaching and has contributed to the University community. Ekland-Olson has served in various academic positions in the College of Liberal Arts, Lyndon B Johnson School of Public Affairs and the College of Natural Sciences.

Photo Credit: Chelsea Purgahn | Daily Texan Staff

A parade of students and colleagues barged into Sheldon Ekland-Olson’s 10 a.m. class carrying a $25,000 check with his name on it.

Ekland-Olson, a sociology professor and director of the School of Human Ecology, was selected by the Friar Society as the winner of the Friar Centennial Teaching Fellowship Award, a prize granted to professors nominated by UT students for their dedication to the University. Friar Society members, along with university faculty including Christine Williams, professor and chair of the Department of Sociology, met outside the College of Liberal Arts building in preparation for the surprise.

Williams said she thinks Ekland-Olson is well-deserving of the Friar Award.

“I think that he’s a remarkable teacher and he’s somebody who’s really dedicated his whole life to this institution, and more than anything he cares very deeply about the students,” Williams said. “He’s just been an inspiration to all of us on how to live an upright, forthright and dedicated career.”

Ekland-Olson is a former dean of the College of Liberal Arts, a former Provost of the University and an influential author, Williams said. She said Ekland-Olson has written about the death penalty in Texas and his most recent work is called, “Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Decides.”

“He’s a specialist in the study of the criminal justice system,” Williams said. 

As the group arrived at Ekland-Olson’s classroom, one Friar member played music on a boombox, while Billy Calve, a government senior and co-chair of the award selection committee, announced their entrance by ringing a cowbell.

Calve said he and his co-chair directed Ekland-Olson’s selection for the award.

“My co-chair and I oversaw the process for the fellowship,” Calve said. “We solicited nominations from students as to who they felt was the most deserving professor, and we distributed that information to the rest of the Friars and then the Friar society as a whole selected Dr. Ekland-Olson for all his years of service to the university.”

After Ekland-Olson received the award, he said he was grateful for the honor.

“This means a lot to me,” Ekland-Olson said. “It’s sort of a lifetime achievement, and it’s very nice to be acknowledged.” 

Calve said the Friar Society has a tradition of surprising the winners of the award.

“Yeah, we think it’s more fun to take the winner by surprise,” Calve said. “So we barge into their class unannounced and we present them with this giant check, and it really is a special moment to see them surprised and so happy.”