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Stories Past

Learning What Really Matters:  The Neely Excellence in Teaching Award

Neely WinnersDr. J. Gail Neely will tell you himself - he might be a little nuts, and he gives a good share of the credit for "warping his life" to the University of Central Oklahoma.

"Here I am 67 years old and as we speak, I am on a Sunday afternoon in the operating room lounge ready to start an operation, working on an NIH grant and working on a lecture I will give next week.  This is nuts! I should retire, but I can't find anything else I love more."

Dr. Neely teaches the next generation of doctors at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, where he serves as a professor and the Director of Otology/Neurotology/Base of Skull Surgery and the Director of Research in the Department of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery.

But he's never forgotten that he started his journey in higher education at UCO, where he earned his bachelor's degree.  To honor his parents for their encouragement and to honor the UCO faculty who impacted his life, he donated the funds needed to open an endowment for The Neely Excellence in Teaching Award to recognize outstanding UCO faculty members.

"I wanted to reach the very people who are so crucial in inspiring the pursuit of excellence, the teachers. I wanted to wire the award integrally to the function of the University and make it self-sustaining as a beacon to all those who strive for excellence."

The award is given to two faculty members annually, with each recipient receiving a $1,000 check.  The chairpersons of each academic department nominate one of their faculty for the award, and a committee of representatives from each college and the Foundation select the recipients.

The awards are given out at the Fall Convocation, the annual meeting of all UCO faculty and staff, followed by a luncheon honoring the recipients.  Dr. Neely always makes a point to attend the convocation and luncheon.  He believes it's important to honor, remember and share the experiences at UCO that prepared him for a life of questioning and reaching

"In college, Dr. Ethel Derrick and others held very high standards; to make the grade, one had to master, not just engage, the subject. It was tough, but wonderfully inspiring. They taught me that one should measure oneself against the universe of knowledge rather than just the lecture or text, and certainly not fellow students. 'What is going to be on the test?'  was not a phase that was acceptable."

(Photo: President Webb and Dr. Neely present one of the 2007 Neely Excellence in Teaching Awards to Dr. Kole Kleeman from the Department of Mass Communications)