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Seniors honor high school teachers with Wolfe Family Teaching Awards

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

LAWRENCE — Even though it’s been several years since University of Kansas seniors have set foot in high school teachers’ classrooms, the influence of many of those educators is not forgotten.

As their former students celebrate the milestone of graduation, four outstanding teachers will be recognized with the 2015 Wolfe Family Teaching Award during KU’s Commencement weekend. Students from any major at KU can nominate their former teachers, and the winners can be secondary school educators from anywhere in the world.

“This is a special award because it offers students an opportunity to recognize the educators who touched their lives,” said Rick Ginsberg, dean of the School of Education. “Much of school reform today focuses on improving students’ standardized test scores, but when students identify lifelong impact, that may be the greatest measure of a teacher’s true worth. There are few better rewards for a teacher than seeing students succeed after they leave their classroom.”

The 2015 award recipients:

  • Ron Cook, Wamego High School
  • Drew Keiter, Olathe Northwest High School
  • Caroline Kill, The Barstow School
  • Laura Woolfolk, Dodge City High School

Ron Cook was nominated for the award by senior Elizabeth Hazelwood, who first encountered Cook when she took his AP Psychology class as a high school sophomore. In her nomination, Hazelwood remembers how Cook gave her the first indication that she could surmount a background that expected her to settle for little. She writes, “I sometimes remind myself of … comments made in passing during AP Psychology and AP European History that bolstered my self-esteem. Mr. Cook is an unfailingly lighthearted and honest instructor.”

Drew Keiter was nominated by Chelsea Ziu, a senior in the Department of Design. In Ziu’s nomination, she writes,

“I work two jobs on campus that require me to teach students in some way, whether it’s teaching freshmen how to navigate campus as a resident assistant or teaching exchange students about American culture as a conversation leader. When tackling these jobs I keep in mind what Drew Keiter has told me… I try to not just ask myself what I can do within these positions to attain my goals but also try and understand what the students' goals are as well.”

A School of Education alumna, Caroline Kill earned her bachelor’s degree in 1994, her master’s degree in 1997 and her doctorate in spring 2015. Her former student Kathleen White, who nominated her, graduated with a degree in biology in December 2014 and will begin medical school this fall. White writes:

“Taking her [AP Biology] class made me develop good study habits, which I had previously lacked, that have served me well throughout my KU career. While the class was challenging, with Mrs. Kill at the front of the classroom every day I knew I had a supportive teacher who played an active role in my learning of the material.”

Laura Woolfolk was nominated by Courtney McDaniel, a senior in communication studies. McDaniel writes, “I have waited three-and-a-half years to write this essay. Ever since I have known about the existence of this award, I knew immediately who I would recommend. Hands down, [Mrs. Woolfolk] is one of the people who has had the most influence on not only my academic career but also my life. I want to be just like her when I am her age.”

Recipients each receive a cash award of $3,000, and their respective high schools receive $1,000.

The award winners were selected from a large pool of outstanding nominees by a committee of faculty, administrators and students from KU’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and the School of Education. 

The recipients will be honored during Commencement weekend at the School of Education convocation ceremony and a dinner held in their honor.

The Wolfe Family Teaching Award was created in 2006 with a $250,000 gift from R. Dean Wolfe, business administration ’66 and juris doctor ’69, and Cheryl L. Wolfe, Spanish education ’69, Clayton, Missouri, through the Wolfe Family Foundation.

The award fund is managed by KU Endowment, the official fundraising and fund-management foundation for KU. Founded in 1891, KU Endowment was the first foundation of its kind at a U.S. public university.

The School of Education is a nationally ranked school serving educators and health, sport and exercise professionals to prepare them as leaders.


10th among public universities for its master’s and doctoral programs
—U.S. News & World Report
#1 public program in nation for special education
—U.S. News & World Report
Assists public schools and other partners in all 105 Kansas counties
$938,377 in scholarship funds awarded to 420+ students
Research expenditures of $36,804,773 for 2011-12
Research from KU’s largest grant, the $24.5 million SWIFT project, assists educators, children, and families across the United States
The award-winning special education faculty published 140 refereed articles, 11 books, and 60 chapters in 2015-16
Students with intellectual disabilities are participating in KU undergraduate programs through a grant-funded KU special education program
Researchers on a $3.5 million grant are collecting data on an innovative reading program designed to teach reading to students with the most significant disabilities in seven Kansas school districts
One of 34 U.S. public institutions in the prestigious Association of American Universities
44 nationally ranked graduate programs.
—U.S. News & World Report
Top 50 nationwide for size of library collection.
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