Most of us can remember our favorite teacher or professor - someone who engaged and mentored us, opening our eyes to a new field of study or career path. For me, it was two high school teachers who inspired a love of language and of philosophy.
As members of a university community, we all know the importance of education to our growth as individuals and our collective progress as a society. Each faculty and staff member, whether directly engaged in teaching or not, contributes to the university's mission of discovering and sharing knowledge.
But that view of education as a cornerstone of progress, and specifically of the importance of effective teaching, is now receiving unparalleled attention nationally.
In the federal stimulus plan $100 billion is committed to education at all levels, with significant funding devoted to programs designed to enhance student achievement and close achievement gaps by providing teachers with new training and support.
I was recently at the White House to take part in the "Educate to Innovate" event, which honored excellence in science, technology, engineering and math education. Three of my fellow university presidents and I presented President Obama with a letter from 79 universities pledging to address the national shortage of teachers in these areas.
One way KU is doing that is through the UKanTeach program, a collaboration between the School of Education and College of Liberal Arts and Sciences that is also expanding to Johnson County Community College.
UKanTeach enables students majoring in math and science to also earn a teaching certificate. Students are mentored by master teachers and gain classroom teaching experience early in the program so they can find out if teaching is truly their calling.
The week after my visit to the White House, associate professor of ecology and evolutionary biology Joy Ward was honored by the President as a 2009 winner of the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers.
This award is given in honor of a recipient's research work, but like all scholars at KU, Professor Ward's research also benefits her students - both the graduate and undergraduate students that work in her lab and the students who take her courses.
And under a project being developed with the help of the National Science Foundation through a Math and Science Partnership planning grant, her work and the work of many other faculty and staff members at KU will greatly benefit students and teachers throughout Kansas.
This joint project involving KU, Kansas State University, the Topeka USD 501 school district and state partners is designed to provide teacher workshops to enhance the study of ecosystems and environmental change at all levels of education, from preschool through college.
This is just one example of how our university's commitment to teaching and education goes far beyond the KU campus.
KU educators enhance their own skills through initiatives like the Center for Teaching Excellence. They work with current and future educators to strengthen the practice of teaching. And they share a love of learning with all their students, helping to perpetuate the devotion to education we all share.