Liz Brixey, an editor at the Columbia Missourian and a hell of a great college professor, earned a Kemper Fellowship last week, proving once again she understand journalism, people, and caring, in whichever particular order you would like to put them.
The fellowships are among some of the most prestigious the university bestows upon people there:
The William T. Kemper Fellowships for Teaching Excellence were established by the William T. Kemper Foundation in 1991 with a $500,000 gift to honor outstanding teachers at the University of Missouri.
Every spring, MU leadership and executives from Commerce Bank, the trustee for the Kemper Foundation, interrupt the classes of new Kemper Fellows and surprise each of them with a stipend to spend as they wish. Thanks to the generosity of the Kemper Foundation, in 2020 the stipend was increased from $10,000 to $15,000 for each Kemper Fellow.
Kemper Fellows have commented on how the awards enhance faculty morale, reward the important role of teaching in higher education, and demonstrate the beneficial relationship between private gifts and the University.
Even before Liz started as a professor at Mizzou in 2003, she was an amazingly gifted teacher. I first crossed paths with her when I started as a cub reporter at the Wisconsin State Journal back in 1995. She would often be in the newsroom late, filing something or other, when I showed up for the night shift. She also sat in on weekends for the “editing rotation,” which meant every reporter had to take at least one weekend night every so often and run the desk. I learned a lot from her during that time period, as she was always excited to share information and completely crammed full of knowledge.
The thing I’ll never forget, however, was the kindness she shared. In 1998, I was getting ready to leave Wisconsin for a job at the Columbia Missourian, so I threw a going away party at a local bar. I invited everyone I knew, including the entire newsroom.
The only person who came was Liz.
After we had a few drinks, she and I started talking about what journalism was all about and what I needed to teach the students. Somewhere in the middle of all this, she pulled a pen and an old receipt out of her purse and scrawled down the basics. She then added her address, in case I ever needed to send a letter or a postcard from her alma mater.
I kept that receipt in my wallet for five years, when, as fate would have it, I was leaving Mizzou for Ball State and Liz was applying for one of our editor positions at the Missourian. We managed to slip away to the ‘Berg, the J-bar, after the official search committee event stuff. I pulled the receipt out of my wallet and showed it to her, saying, “I’ll feel a lot better about leaving if I know you’re coming here.” She took the gig and has been there ever since.
When I found out that she got the fellowship, I went into the guest room of my house, found an old lock box and opened it up. On top of the important papers, car titles and other such things was this receipt.
In looking at what she wrote, I realized I still live by and teach by those lessons today. I hope my students get as much out of those missives as I have.