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ECE Professor O’Connell awarded Kemper Fellowship for Teaching Excellence

O'Connell and Schatz shake hands as Loboa and Foley applaud.

Robert O’Connell, professor of electrical and computer engineering, shakes hands with Commerce Bank Chairman Jim Schatz as Dean Elizabeth Loboa and MU Chancellor Hank Foley applaud. O’Connell received one of the 2016 William T. Kemper Fellowships for Teaching Excellence on Friday.

Robert O’Connell, professor of electrical and computer engineering, received one of the 2016 William T. Kemper Fellowships for Teaching Excellence from MU interim Chancellor Hank Foley and Commerce Bank Chairman Jim Schatz on Friday afternoon.

“I’m very gratified to be included in that club of people I know on campus who are outstanding teachers,” O’Connell said.

Foley and Schatz, alongside College of Engineering Dean Elizabeth Loboa, Associate Dean of Academic Programs Hani Salim, Electrical and Computer Engineering Department Chair Chi-Ren Shyu and several College of Engineering staff members surprised O’Connell and awarded him the Fellowship, including a $10,000 check.

“Students regularly praise Dr. O’Connell for his commitment to [student] education,” Foley said during the presentation.

Five outstanding teachers from MU each year receive a Kemper Fellowship, and the program is in its 26th year. Per the MU News Bureau, the William T. Kemper Fellowships for Teaching Excellence were established in 1991 thanks to a $500,000 gift from the fellowship’s namesake, who graduated from MU in 1926 and spent 52 years in the banking industry. Commerce Bank manages the fund.

O’Connell’s bio, compiled by the MU News Bureau, can be found below. Additional information is available at the MU News Bureau web site.

Robert O’Connell

MU faculty member since 1980

In his years teaching at the University of Missouri, Robert O’Connell noticed that while administrative programs were in place to assist with student retention in the College of Engineering, little was done in the classroom to retain struggling students. This became his motivation for teaching and his commitment to engage struggling students and is what colleagues and students believe sets O’Connell apart.

O’Connell believes that by using student-centered active learning, or learning where an emphasis is placed on student discussion and hands-on examples, he can significantly impact engineering student retention.

“What I feel is most unique is that he pays extra attention to the students who struggle most,” said Chi-Ren Shyu, chairman of the electrical and computer engineering department. “Several successful, young alumni shared with me their stories about O’Connell’s influence and how they overcame turmoil because of his advising.”

Students regularly praise O’Connell for his commitment to students and their education. They say that his teaching style is easy to follow, he presents information clearly, and he is able to engage students without leaving any behind. As part of his goal to increase student engagement, O’Connell connects with students outside the classroom by involving them in his research through the undergraduate research program and by mentoring students who wish to study subjects not explicitly offered in the curriculum through the independent study program. Students say through his unique approach to teaching, he is able to take personal interest in every student’s learning and ensure that everyone is performing to the best of his or her abilities.

In addition to his attention to student success, he has been involved with various university programs and initiatives. O’Connell is co-founder of the MU Faculty Workshops Committee, faculty advisor for the MU chapter of the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineering (IEEE) as well as an advisor for Eta Kappa Nu, an IEEE honor society. In addition, he established a summer-based study abroad program to help students develop global knowledge and skills.

As a testament to the success of his efforts, O’Connell has won the most teaching awards in the Electrical and Computer Engineering department. He has won the department’s Outstanding Professor Award three times since 2012 and the College of Engineering Faculty Teaching Excellence Award three times since 2006.

“Dr. O’Connell exhibits the University of Missouri pillars of excellence, respect, discovery and responsibility in his teaching and service to our students,” says Miguel Ayllon, College of Engineering International Outreach Coordinator.

O’Connell earned a bachelor’s degree from Manhattan college and a master of science and doctorate from the University of Illinois.