April 20, 2005

John H. Summey named SIUC's best teacher

by K.C. Jaehnig


John H. Summey

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- John H. Summey, associate professor of marketing at Southern Illinois University Carbondale, has been named the University's best teacher campus-wide.

He will receive $7,500 in cash, $7,500 in professional development support, a wristwatch and a framed certificate under SIUC Chancellor Walter V. Wendler's "Excellence Through Commitment Awards Program" established last year.

Summey, described by department chair Terry Clark as "an institution, an icon, a legend and eccentric, curmudgeonly teacher who has been loved, revered and respected by generations of students," teaches both undergraduate and graduate courses in product strategy, sales management and marketing research — MKTG 390 — a class that has become synonymous with the man.

Students work in teams on studies requiring them to apply what they've learned in class to solve problems for actual companies. It's fast paced and demanding, and the work is not only complicated but involves that bane of many students, statistics. The students invariably hate it while they're in it but recall that course — and the man who taught it — with fondness once they're safely through.

"He was that ‘one teacher' who many of us are fortunate to encounter during our studies — the teacher that expands our horizons and changes the way we think about life," wrote former student Betty Breman (now president of Taylor Studios Inc., in Rantoul) in a letter supporting Summey's nomination for SIUC's top teaching prize.

"I learned more in one of his classes than in any other single undergraduate or graduate class. While exploring marketing research, we found ourselves applying statistical knowledge, utilizing a statistical computer program, developing our writing skills and interacting with a real-life client — all the while pushing the boundaries of what we as a team and class believed was possible. This was an extremely rare learning experience; I treasure it to this day.

"He understood that a student's potential was greater than even the student's expectations. In his class, we found ourselves doing things we thought were beyond us."

In addition to mastering a "rigorous set of core research skills in a live research environment," students in the marketing research course learn "valuable lessons in tact, diplomacy, accuracy and sincerity," noted colleague Siva K. Balasubramanian.

And, he added, the course has only gotten better as it's gone along.

"Dr. Summey has improved his pedagogical content over the years to accommodate the increasing sophistication and capability in both software and computing power," Balasubramanian wrote.

Students writing letters on Summey's behalf repeatedly cited his command of the language, his humor, his enthusiasm, his sincerity, his accessibility, the feedback, encouragement and emotional support they got from him, and the hard work he put into his classes.

But, wrote his former chair Zarrel V. Lambert, Summey does not stop teaching at the classroom door. Among other things, he critiques resumes and cover letters. He coaches students on how to improve their speaking and writing skills and how to prepare for and behave on interviews and plant visitations. He also talks with them about what works when working with others, what is ethical and what is not, and how to put together a career advancement plan.

"During my more than 35 years as a faculty member at four universities of national scope, I never saw a faculty member devote anywhere near the amount of out-of-class time that Dr. Summey does in guiding, educating, mentoring and nurturing the professional and personal development of students — at a considerable sacrifice to Dr. Summey's family and personal life," Lambert wrote.

Elizabeth A. Scally, associate director of housing-residence life at SIUC, wrote that she was impressed at how well Summey worked with international students, a sentiment echoed by former graduate student Juan Meng, now assistant professor of marketing at Virginia State University.

"Dr. Summey suggested that I sit in his class to learn how to lecture, encouraged me to come to his office to observe how to manage group projects and students' problems, and shared with me all kinds of wisdom on teaching which he had accumulated over many years," Meng wrote.

"He also created many opportunities for me to talk to his class and helped me to improve my presentation performance. More than two years of intensive training from Dr. Summey helped me smoothly start my full-time employment. I realize more and more how much I learned from Dr. Summey."

Summey helped shape Meng as a researcher and taught her how to understand American culture and how to fit in. But beyond that and perhaps most precious of all, Summey cared about her.

"When I was sick, he provided me medical care; when I needed a driver's license, he taught me how to drive; and when I was alone at Thanksgiving, he invited me to his house to enjoy a delicious Thanksgiving dinner," Meng concluded.

"Many memories I had with him were so wonderful that I will treasure them forever."

Summey earned his bachelor's degree in 1962 from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and his master of business administration and doctoral degrees in 1969 and 1974 respectively from Arizona State University. He has been teaching at SIUC since 1977.

Promoting excellence in academics and celebrating faculty excellence are among the core commitments of Southern@150: Building Excellence Through Commitment, SIUC's long-range plan.