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Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Alumni

Cullen alumnus endows $1 million for teaching award


William Brookshire’s donation is the largest donation of any single donor to the College. | Courtesy of the Cullen College of Engineering

William A. Brookshire, a first generation high school graduate and Cullen College of Engineering alumnus, has pledged $1 million to set up the William A. Brookshire Teaching Excellence Award endowment.

According to a UH news release, the funds will be awarded to Cullen faculty who are committed to the teaching excellence.

“(Brookshire’s) endowment in our college is the largest of any single donor,” said Joseph Tedesco, dean and chair of the Cullen College of Engineering. “It’s in excess of $15 million.”

The majority of the $15 million will go toward undergraduate scholarships, Tedesco said. 

“He’s always expressed interest in having quality teaching in the College of Engineering,” said Russell Dunlavy, the chief development officer for STEM at UH who has worked with Brookshire since 2009. “This is something he wanted to do to reward those faculty who dedicate themselves to student success through their teaching.”

The Teaching Excellence Award is a cash reward that faculty members can receive after being nominated by their peers and chosen by a committee, Dunlavy said. There will be two recipients each year, and Tedesco said the endowment could generate $40,000 to $50,000 per year.

Endowments work on an investment system, Dunlavy said. The principal endowment is not spent by the University. Rather, a third party investment firm is charged with distributing the funds, and the proceeds garnered from the investment are then used to fund scholarships and awards.

Brookshire was raised in a poor family, and was the first to earn a high school diploma, according to the news release. He was highly influenced by his instructors while taking night classes at UH.

“I had to work a full-time job during the day while attending night classes to finish my bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering,” said Brookshire.

In addition to the teaching award, Brookshire also has two undergraduate scholarships that benefit Cullen students. The William A. Brookshire Scholarship benefits students who work and take classes simultaneously, while the William A. Brookshire IMPACT Scholarship targets students paying their own way through college.

David Shattuck, an associate professor of electrical and computer engineering, helped Brookshire determine the award criteria. He said he will also serve on the committee that chooses the winners.

“I think this will add one more incentive to work hard on teaching,” Shattuck said. “I think when it becomes clear how much money is available here, people will try to get these awards. If we do our job right on the committee, you’ll have to teach really well to get them.”

Dunlavy said the committee will follow selection criteria which includes student feedback, classroom sit-ins by committee members, alumni feedback and personal reference letters. Members of the committee will be appointed by the dean of the College.

“Like most students in the Cullen College of Engineering, we are honored that alumnus Dr. Brookshire has once again shown his faith in the mission of the college by establishing such a generous award for our faculty,” said Cullen College of Engineering Sen. David Gratvol, a petroleum engineering senior.

Shattuck said cash rewards for educators are a good idea because it gives them incentive to work harder.

“There have to be other incentives, other motivations. It’s not just money, but money’s a part of it,” Shattuck said. “I also think that when you pay people well, they feel appreciated and it changes their attitude and their further performance.”

Tedesco said that as a Tier One university, UH’s focus on research, especially in the engineering department, has kept it competitive with comparable schools across the nation.

“But let’s not forget about one of the primary missions of this institution, which is undergraduate teaching,” said Tedesco. “I think all of (Brookshire’s) philanthropy supports that very important mission.”

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