Friar Society surprises professor with award


Chelsea Purgahn

Dr. Sheldon Ekland-Olson is the 2013 recipient of the Friar Centennial Teaching Fellowship, a student-nominated award given to an undergraduate professor who has demonstrated excellence in teaching and has contributed to the University community. Ekland-Olson has served in various academic positions in the College of Liberal Arts, Lyndon B Johnson School of Public Affairs and the College of Natural Sciences.

Barak Bullock

A parade of students and colleagues barged into Sheldon Ekland-Olson’s 10 a.m. class carrying a $25,000 check with his name on it.

Ekland-Olson, a sociology professor and director of the School of Human Ecology, was selected by the Friar Society as the winner of the Friar Centennial Teaching Fellowship Award, a prize granted to professors nominated by UT students for their dedication to the University. Friar Society members, along with university faculty including Christine Williams, professor and chair of the Department of Sociology, met outside the College of Liberal Arts building in preparation for the surprise.

Williams said she thinks Ekland-Olson is well-deserving of the Friar Award.

“I think that he’s a remarkable teacher and he’s somebody who’s really dedicated his whole life to this institution, and more than anything he cares very deeply about the students,” Williams said. “He’s just been an inspiration to all of us on how to live an upright, forthright and dedicated career.”

Ekland-Olson is a former dean of the College of Liberal Arts, a former Provost of the University and an influential author, Williams said. She said Ekland-Olson has written about the death penalty in Texas and his most recent work is called, “Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Decides.”

“He’s a specialist in the study of the criminal justice system,” Williams said. 

As the group arrived at Ekland-Olson’s classroom, one Friar member played music on a boombox, while Billy Calve, a government senior and co-chair of the award selection committee, announced their entrance by ringing a cowbell.

Calve said he and his co-chair directed Ekland-Olson’s selection for the award.

“My co-chair and I oversaw the process for the fellowship,” Calve said. “We solicited nominations from students as to who they felt was the most deserving professor, and we distributed that information to the rest of the Friars and then the Friar society as a whole selected Dr. Ekland-Olson for all his years of service to the university.”

After Ekland-Olson received the award, he said he was grateful for the honor.

“This means a lot to me,” Ekland-Olson said. “It’s sort of a lifetime achievement, and it’s very nice to be acknowledged.” 

Calve said the Friar Society has a tradition of surprising the winners of the award.

“Yeah, we think it’s more fun to take the winner by surprise,” Calve said. “So we barge into their class unannounced and we present them with this giant check, and it really is a special moment to see them surprised and so happy.”