For more than three decades, Michael Flowers has been teaching acting at Birmingham-Southern College. Flowers was recently named 2015 Alabama Professor of the Year by the Carnegie Foundation, selected from over 400 top professors in the United States.
The award is based on four criteria: impact on and involvement with undergraduate students; scholarly approach to teaching and learning; contributions to undergraduate education, the community, and profession, and support from colleagues and current and former students. He was one of 35 honorees, but one of only three recognized in the arts. The award is one of few that specifically recognizes excellence in undergraduate teaching and mentoring.
Flowers was alone in his office when he opened the letter notifying him that he’d been selected as Professor of the year. He was so surprised that he went through the letter a couple of times to make sure he hadn’t misread it.
“I honestly expected it to be a ‘jee thanks,’ you know, maybe ‘try again’ letter but in fact it was ‘Congratulations, you have been selected to receive the award,'” Flowers said.
Flowers and his wife flew to Washington DC for a reception at the Folger Shakespeare library.
The theatre department at Birmingham-Southern College is small with three full time faculty. Flowers just wrapped up the fall student production “Into the Woods. He says one of the cool things about a small program is getting to know the students and it’s that intimacy and rapport that guides him in choosing productions.
“We are looking for things that can relate to our community here at Birmingham-Southern to these students to try to get them in the theater to see things that have something to say –so they will leave the theatre with something on their minds, something they can talk about, something they can ponder and as a part of their education, obviously we want the greater community in to see our stuff as well but we try to focus on what will matter to the lives of these 18-22 year olds that we are in the business of educating.”
Students at the school agree that the relationship with staff is invaluable. Birmingham-Southern College Senior Spiro Gerentokis who played the Baker says, “Michael is such a great person to talk to. His door is always open and [he’s] always wiling talk to about what ever is going on in your life. He’s such a great mentor and even a great friend. In some ways he’s different form other professors on campus because he’s concerned about you as a person not just within the classroom or within the rehearsal process.”
Senior Melaine Hollenstein, says coming into college she wasn’t very confident about majoring in theatre, but after four years under Michael she feels “not only prepared but capable”.
Flowers believes in what BSC is doing.
“What I believe in about what we are doing here at the college is we are giving an education about something very specific but there also getting that really broad based education so when they leave here they don’t know how to do just one thing but they are well educated enough to be able to adapt to a world that is changing so quickly to use the skills they are taught both in our disciple and the other disciplines to find themselves in a variety of vocations and I think that’s really important thing. ”
Many of Flowers students have gone on to bigger and better things—and not just in theatre. Joelle Phillips, class of 89 had Flowers as a teacher, director AND academic advisor. She’s now the President of ATT in Tennessee.
“He was a stealth professor. I had no idea I was learning how to be a good lawyer and learning how good corporate while I was learning to be a good actress”.
Phillips says she draws a lot on what she learned from Flowers. In her current work she is often reminded of studying with him. She says Flowers is perfect person to highlight for the award and every time she is in touch with him, the thing she wants to say the most is thank you.
Flowers received his Bachelor’s degree in fine arts from Arkansas State University and his Masters in Fine Arts from the University of Mississippi.