Our Stories

Jerry Gray: 2005 Oregon Professor of the Year

Jerry Gray wants everyone to know that all the fuss is a bit embarrassing.

Recently named the 2005 Oregon Professor of the Year, Gray is quite humbled by the honor. "There are dozens of people on our campus who could win this award if they were the University's nominee," he says. "I have so much respect for what other people are able to accomplish in their classrooms, and I'm always trying to learn from them."

At an institution known for its commitment to excellence in teaching, Gray, professor of economics, stands out for "teaching a difficult and demanding subject to a wide range of undergraduates with extraordinary effectiveness," says Carol Long, dean of the College of Liberal Arts.

Gray is cited for his innovative teaching and his ability to make economics relevant to students' daily lives. Kaitlin Marousis '05 says, "One of the clearest examples in my mind was his discussion of Willamette's parking situation as it related to concepts of supply and demand."

Students and faculty alike praise Gray for his enthusiasm, dedication and humor, and he is legendary on the Willamette campus for the countless hours he spends outside the classroom and beyond his own teaching schedule to help students learn. During Gray's recent sabbatical, according to Claire Reinert '05, a number of students had difficulty in a required statistics class and pleaded with Gray for help. "After taking a poll to schedule days and times, it was decided that the weekend worked best. Jerry, being the person he is, agreed without a trace of reluctance or hesitation. So both Saturday and Sunday morning, a group of us spent numerous hours in a classroom going over the key elements of statistics, which were especially pertinent to those majoring in economics."

The choice to pursue economics, Gray says, was something of an accident. Needing to register for one more class at the University of Santa Clara, Gray asked someone on his dorm floor what he was taking. "He was so sold on an econ major that his enthusiasm was both odd and inspiring," Gray recalls, "so I took economics."

Finding he did well in the subject, Gray thought an economics major would prepare him for following his father's footsteps and going to law school. It was as a junior, when he returned to the University of Utah for a year to save money, that his professors encouraged him to consider graduate school and a career in teaching. "I thought the idea of teaching was crazy," he says. "I get nervous speaking in front of groups, so teaching did not seem like a great career move until I came to think of my teaching as a conversation. You really see your work reflected immediately in these conversations. It's nice to see that light go on. I'll explain something and a student will say, 'Why didn't you say that before,' and you swear you have said it a hundred times before, but this time it was a new conversation and prompted a new response."

The Oregon Professor of the Year Award is given by the Carnegie Foundation and the Council for Advancement and Support of Education. Seven Willamette University faculty have been awarded this honor: Frances Chapple, chemistry, 1990; Mary Ann Youngren, psychology, 1991; Roger Hull, art history, 1993; Arthur Payton, chemistry, 1994; Daniel Montague, physics, 1995; William Duvall, history, 1998; and Suresht Bald, politics, 2003.

"To my mind and in the eyes of his students and colleagues," President M. Lee Pelton wrote in his letter of recommendation, "Jerry Gray belongs in this group. He shares his colleagues' passion for education, and, like them, he has fostered in his students an enthusiasm for learning that is the essence of education."

"It's a special honor to be recognized for doing something you care so much about doing well and find so rewarding." Gray says. "The award is a great gift."