It’s easy to gush when you’re describing excellence.

Dr. Connie Kossen (’64) presents Dr. Ross Whitwam with the Kossen Faculty Excellence Award during the university’s Spring Commencement Ceremony.

But it’s difficult for Dr. Bonnie Oppenheimer to be succinct when she is asked to highlight the accomplishments of Dr. Ross Whitwam.

“Dr. Whitwam has exhibited excellence in teaching with a commitment to student success, in class as well as in scholarly achievement, and service, both on campus and in our local community,” Oppenheimer wrote in a four-page, single-spaced letter to the Kossen Faculty Award Selection Committee.

Oppenheimer, who received the Kossen Award in 2016, joined two other colleagues and a former Mississippi University for Women student in their vociferous support of Whitwam for the annual award that goes to a meritorious tenured faculty member of The W who has exhibited excellence or artistic achievement, preferably on campus and in communities, throughout The W’s service area.

Judging from the overwhelming show of support, it’s not surprising Whitwam is this year’s recipient of the Kossen Faculty Excellence Award.

“It’s a great honor, but a lot of the credit goes to working with great colleagues and a series of great department chairs over my years here,” said Whitwam, a professor of Biology who started working at The W in the fall of 1999. “Working with other outstanding faculty members makes it a lot easier to achieve a degree of success yourself.”

Drs. Connie (’64) and Tom Kossen established the Kossen Faculty Excellence Award endowment. Every year the endowment funds a $6,000 award to recognize an outstanding faculty member.

Whitwam said everyone at The W views teaching, student success, scholarly work and serving the campus and the community as facets of their jobs, which makes things easier at a student-centered university. He said students can’t have success without a commitment to effective teaching, which motivates teachers to keep up with what the best minds in their fields are doing. Whitwam said he sees that attitude in so many of his peers on campus that he feels it has rubbed off on him.

Dr. Dorothy Kerzel, a professor of Mathematics and a winner of the Kossen Faculty Excellence Award in 2009, has worked with Whitwam long enough to know he has helped instill that attitude in many of their colleagues.

“First and foremost, Dr. Whitwam is an outstanding teacher,” Kerzel said in her letter of recommendation. “His courses are known to be interesting, challenging and fair. He is very passionate about wanting students to learn and is very willing to go beyond the standard faculty efforts to work with students.

“Regarding scholarly and professional growth, Dr. Whitwam is always curious and looking to learn himself. He also is the most generous member of the Department of Sciences and Mathematics in terms of giving of his time.”

Whitwam said he has learned about excellence in teaching from Kerzel and colleagues like her. He said he has been privileged to work with peers who have different levels of experience and unique skills, approaches and attitudes that have helped make him better. Whitwam said he has seen firsthand at The W that an outstanding instructor cares about their students and pays attention to when they are not learning. As a result, he said he has learned that being flexible and paying attention to what is effective to the students in front of him is a key to success.

Karen Saffold, a 2022 graduate of The W, studied Cellular and Molecular Biology with Whitwam and said his teaching style and commitment to student success left a lasting impressing on her.

“Dr. Whitwam’s commitment to student success is apparent in the way he approaches teaching, research and service,” said Saffold, a Fall 2023 graduate student in the Neuroscience Ph.D. program at the University of Mississippi Medical Center in Jackson. “His dedication to his field of study is evident in his excellent scholarly and artistic achievements. He has published numerous articles in top-tier, scientific journals and has been invited to present his research at conferences around the world. He is also an active member of several professional organizations and serves on various committees.”

Dr. Jiben Roy, a professor of Chemistry at The W, said Whitwam’s willingness to support, mentor and guide his students sets him apart.

“In the Department of Sciences and Mathematics, Biology has played a substantial role for the university for a long time,” said Roy, who has known Whitwam since he arrived at The W in 2004. “Dr Whitwam has had a great impact on The W as a faculty member and is a true gentleman, and I have not seen many in my life.”

Whitwam deflects all of the praise and said he is focused on remaining curious and continuing to learn because he wants to serve his students in the best way possible.

“In biology, but I think in all other fields as well, new information is constantly being discovered, explanations are being updated or supplanted,” Whitwam said. “How can that not be exciting and energizing? It doesn’t matter if they teach English, Chemistry, History, Art or another discipline, the instructors at The W I meet and model myself on enjoy teaching because they enjoy learning.”

About The W

Located in historic Columbus, Mississippi, The W was founded in 1884 as the first state-supported college for women in the United States. Today, the university is home to 2,227 students in more than 70 majors and concentrations and has educated men for 40 years. The university is nationally recognized for low student debt, diversity and social mobility which empowers students to BE BOLD.

Be Bold. Tower with Blue.