Lemke wins annual Underkofler award for teaching


photo courtesy of Pete Barth

Richard Lemke, assistant professor of criminal justice, never expected to win the award so soon in his LC career.

Leah Ulatowski, Editor-in-Chief

At the annual honors banquet, Brian Frink, chair of the interdisciplinary studies division and professor of chemistry and physics, would not reveal the name of the winner of the Underkofler Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching Award until after describing the faculty member and reading several praises from students. However, one detail made Richard Lemke, assistant professor of criminal justice and this year’s winner, certain it was him.

“When Frink was describing the characteristics of the winner in his presentation, I thought it sounded like a really good professor. I didn’t think it was me,” Lemke said. “It wasn’t until they mentioned the poodle stories that I realized it was me.”

One of the student nomination letters praised Lemke’s quirky yet memorable explanation of certain concepts in criminal justice by employing the hypothetical crime of kicking a poodle.

Other student feedback included positive reviews of his “dry humor” and extensive praise of his storytelling abilities, availability and overall professionalism. Frink commented how Lemke is a “loving husband and devoted father” above all else.

“I would thank the students who nominated me for thinking that I was worthy and made an impact,” Lemke said. “I don’t often get to hear the success stories, so hearing Frink talk about what I’ve done since arriving at Lakeland and the impact it had on others was one of the best parts of the evening. I just hope I can continue making an impact.”

While Lemke briefly thought about advancing to the point in his career where others could eventually see him qualifying for such an award, he never imagined the honor would come so soon. Lemke is only in his third year of being a faculty member at Lakeland College.

“Out of all the faculty members here and my colleagues, there were a lot of people who I thought were just as deserving of the award, if not more so,” Lemke said, “but I appreciate it.”

Joselynn Torres, sophomore criminal justice major and one of Lemke’s students, believes the professor’s charisma and thoroughness are key.

“He shows a lot of enthusiasm while teaching and is good at explaining things if you have any questions,” Torres said.

Lemke’s praise of his students is just as positive as their reviews of him.

“I appreciate the sincerity of Lakeland College students. I enjoy talking with them in and outside of class and their desire to succeed,” Lemke said. “I appreciate their willingness to put forth the effort to get where they want to be.”

Lemke’s advice for aspiring educators or anyone striving to progress in their careers is to surround themselves with individuals who are successful and incorporate such examples into their own work.

“I was not being insincere during the (Underkofler award) speech when I said we are a product of who we surround ourselves with, including mentors, students and family. My mentor, Francis Cullen, often gave us the statement of ‘model success,’” Lemke said. “I was lucky enough in my career to see some really outstanding professors. I saw what worked and what I was unhappy with; I’ve modeled that success throughout my career and it has paid off, not only through this award but through the student success at Lakeland and my last institution.”