The road to a teaching position at a research university seldom strays from a traditional route of degrees and years of experience in the classroom.
Linda Sowers, an instructor of agricultural journalism, agriculture and applied economics at the MU College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources, took a very different course to the classroom that included chemical sales, marketing, golf and university development.
The unorthodox track didn’t deter her MU colleagues from nominating her for a Golden Apple Teaching Award. The award is designed to recognize faculty in the College who go “above and beyond” in teaching and/or advising. Sowers was surprised with the award in her Mumford Hall classroom.
To be eligible for the award, faculty members must demonstrate clarity, variability and enthusiasm. They need to be accessible to students, helpful, personable and act as a mentor who students can turn to for advice and direction. Nominees should be well-prepared for classes and encourage creative work.
Sowers, a native of Rolla, Mo., earned her ag economics degree from MU. Her professional career started by selling agricultural chemicals for Dow Agribusiness. Then, she worked for a Kansas City advertising agency before accepting a women’s golf coaching position at the University of Tennessee.
That wasn’t her last dramatic career change. For six years she served as the director of advancement at CAFNR. During this time, she was able to combine an old skill set with a new opportunity.
Sowers began teaching at MU about a decade ago with a class called Business Golf Etiquette. Combining classroom and laboratory components, this two credit hour course never failed to attract a full complement of students. Student evaluations were consistently positive.
Four years ago, Sowers used her marketing experience to step into a new classroom again to teach the Agricultural Sales course. “Suffice to say, she hit the ground running and never looked back,” said Mike Nolan, professor and director of the Division of Applied Social Sciences.
“In the few years since she ventured into an undergraduate teaching role, Linda has repeatedly demonstrated her skills and enthusiasm for CAFNR’s teaching mission,” said Bryan Garton, associate dean for academic programs. “As a consequence, additions to her teaching assignment have been made on a regular basis.”
“Based on her superb record in teaching, in 2010 we asked her to teach Ag Journalism 3210, a service course that emphasizes writing communication skills,” Nolan continued. “Although the semester is not over, all signs point to a successful startup and we plan to increase enrollment in the course.” Nolan was one of three faculty members who nominated Sowers for the award.
“Linda first encounters students through class, of course, but her impact reaches far beyond the classroom,” noted Jan Dauve, teaching associate professor and another co-nominator. “There is a parade of former students who seek her advice on preparing for professional encounters. A throng of students who participated in the Dickinson Scholars program brought her up in conversation as one of the most helpful at MU in terms of preparing and getting the most out of that week in Kansas City.”
“Although her path to becoming a CAFNR teaching faculty member has been everything but traditional, in Linda Sowers CAFNR has a superb teaching resource,” Joe Parcell, associate professor and the third co-nominator said. “Not only do students rate her highly – she loves her role as a teacher and brings energy, enthusiasm, and creativity to it. Recognizing her with a Golden Apple Award seems like a fitting way to acknowledge her contributions to our undergraduate teaching mission.”