The University of Dallas honored Dr. Gerard Wegemer and Dr. Stephen Slaughter at its annual Haggerty Teaching Excellence Awards Ceremony on Tuesday, Jan. 20. The 2015 King Fellow award was given to Wegemer and Slaughter received the 2015 Haggar Fellow award.
To receive the King Fellow award, a professor must have been teaching at UD for a minimum of eight years. The professor must also have “made a significant contribution to the university through scholarly work, excellence in teaching and as an exemplary colleague,” according to a UD press release. The Haggar Fellow, on the other hand, goes to a professor who has taught at UD a maximum of eight years.
In addition to being a professor of English, Wegemer is also renowned internationally for his expertise on Thomas More. Building off of his knowledge, he started up the university’s Thomas More Center, which provides students and others with a central recourse for research on More.
Wegemer, who is in his 29th year of teaching at UD, said that he has loved every year. Before coming to UD, he had taught for five years at Notre Dame’s graduate school and then at a high school for six years. During that time, he met several UD faculty, alumni and students. He says he was immediately impressed by the UD community and drawn to its intellectual atmosphere, leading him to apply as soon as a position opened up.
“When I interviewed I remember the impression of… a real ethos of love of learning, eagerness to learn, and I remember seeing that even in the classes that I taught when I first came to interview. So I was sold right away coming here,” Wegemer explained.
Throughout the years, he has also been impressed by UD students’ work ethic, which prompted him to change his teaching style upon arriving here.
“I’ve been at other places where you have to make the case for a liberal arts education, and here I’ve never had to make the case for the students to learn and do the great amount of work we ask them to do,” Wegemer said.
Senior Patrick Bohlin, who took one of his Thomas More classes, said that he felt that the class evidenced Wegemer’s great teaching and intellectual abilities.
“He’s a true intellectual in both mind and will: he’s very clear-sighted, he knows what he’s looking for, he can penetrate through texts… he’s the embodiment of a liberal arts education,” Bohlin said.
Bohlin also said he admires the eagerness with which Wegemer helps his students, stating that he will go out of his way to benefit them in any way possible.
“The best part is that his door is always open,” he said.
Slaughter, an associate biology professor, was likewise honored for his contribution to the university. He has become well known on campus for his expertise in biology, specifically, biomechanics.
“Slaughter studies the biomechanics of human motion and its impact on human stability, including fall prevention in the elderly and the tracking of neuromuscular dysfunction,” said a UD press release. “He appeared in the History Channel’s show ‘Superhumans’ as an expert in biomechanics and has an exhibit on motion at Dallas’ Perot Museum of Nature and Science.”
In addition to teaching, Slaughter has had a variety of jobs — he has practiced medicine, was a consultant in the computer industry, worked in a research division for Texas Instruments and taught part-time at other local colleges. He began working here as an adjunct professor in anatomy and physiology in 2007 at Dr. Marcy Brown-Marsden’s request, and was soon asked to apply full-time when a position opened up.
Slaughter said that one of the first things that caught his attention when he first visited UD was when a young man stopped and held the door for him going into Haggar. “And I go ‘okay, thank you,’ and he goes ‘Yes, sir,’ so I’m like ‘Woah!’ I almost thought it was weird; I was used to other schools where it’s not quite the same. And it happened again! I thought, I’m not sure about this place,” he joked. “Of course I came to realize that there were nice, respectful students that were interested in their education and their studies. It was really the students that brought me here.”
Senior biology major Jacob Samuel noted the obvious care Slaughter has for his students.
“He can interact with you not only as a professor to student, but also as a friend to friend,” Samuel said. “His office is open all the time, people just come in and hang out, which is a big thing. He keeps up with your life, he likes to know how you’re doing.”
Samuel says he also appreciates Slaughter’s relaxed teaching style and his gift for approaching difficult subjects.
“You go into these stressful lectures and you think ‘Oh my God, I have to memorie a million bones and all these muscles,’” Samuel explained. “But the way he approaches it is in a calm and relaxed manner; and when you see a professor doing that it helps you calm down and approach it in the right way,” he said.
A common theme in both student and faculty interviews was that many students came to UD after hearing about its gifted professors and professors came to teach at a school when they heard the school was filled with students eager to learn. After another year of Haggerty awards, it is clear that this unique professor-student relationship is one that UD will carry on for years to come.