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Jernigan wins 2019 Stata Norton Distinguished Teaching Award

November 25, 2019

By Anne Christiansen-Bullers

Professor Jernigan holding skeleton arm in demonstration

It's been a tradition for years. On his last day of teaching first-year students, Steve Jernigan brings "medley muffins" to show his appreciation for the students in a very tangible way.

Jernigan, PT, Ph.D., FNAP, associate professor and director of the Doctor of Physical Therapy Program (DPT), makes them himself the night before. The recipe uses nutritious ingredients such as whole wheat flour, flax meal, roasted almonds, dried cherries and oatmeal.

This personal attention to students helped to secure him the 2019 Stata Norton Distinguished Teaching Award. The award recognizes excellence in teaching as well as outstanding contributions by the recipient in his or her field. The recipient is selected through a review of nominations from faculty and students in the School of Health Professions.

"I love what I do, and that's sufficient reward, but to have your peers and students acknowledge what you do is truly a blessing," Jernigan said.

Adapting to student need

His students wrote letters of support in their nomination. "Dr. Stephen Jernigan has played a consistent and vital role in our growth as future health care professionals," wrote one student.

Another wrote, "I have had the pleasure of learning from numerous amazing professors throughout my academic career. Dr. Stephen Jernigan is without a question my favorite. He is as good as they come in regards to adapting teaching styles for different learning styles..."

Jernigan said his individualized approach to student learning comes partly from his heightened attention to detail. "I pick up on small cues, or small differences, that students might be giving off without even realizing it sometimes. My colleagues laugh because when someone gets a haircut or new glasses, I often immediately notice. It's not something I try to do: it just happens. That detail orientation helps me to adjust to the response of the classroom."

Learning from an important mentor (or two)

Jernigan received his master's degree in physical therapy from the University of Kansas Medical Center. One particular professor, Dr. Janice Loudon, led him to contemplate teaching as a career. "She made learning enjoyable and meaningful, with her dry sense of humor and genuine care for students," Jernigan said.

Loudon let him volunteer with her in the classroom, which solidified his interest in teaching, and ultimately, his decision to pursue a PhD so that he could teach long-term. He became her teaching assistant, and years later, as an instructor, was assigned to teach the same course in which Loudon let him volunteer.

"I'm very thankful for her mentorship in those early days of teaching," Jernigan said.

Jernigan helps three students learn about wrist

Jernigan demonstrates to three physical therapy students in a recent lab.

His mother, a veteran first-grade teacher, also played a role in his teaching.

"I get to teach our PT students in the first and second semesters of the DPT program. I love teaching early in the program because teaching to me is not just about the knowledge but helping the students grow, both from a life and professional identity perspective," Jernigan said.

Upon some reflection, he realized his mother during her 35+ years of teaching, teaches in a similar capacity. "Her first-grade students are also ‘newer' in their education process, so some of my love for teaching early in the DPT program may just be how I'm wired."

Showing gratitude

He said he rarely leaves a classroom without being energized. "That's a win-win for me, to be able to do something you derive so much joy from while helping students progress professionally," Jernigan said.

In gratitude a few years ago, one group of students pooled their money to buy Jernigan a special gift: a 24-count muffin tin. "I still use it," he said. "Every fall semester."

The Stata Norton Award is named for a dean of the School of Health Professions whose tenure spanned from 1980 to 1984. Norton also served on the faculty of the Department of Dietetics and Nutrition and was professor emeritus of pharmacology, toxicology and therapeutics in the KU School of Medicine. Jernigan is the 33rd recipient of the award.

Last modified: Dec 10, 2019
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