Celebrating Excellence in Teaching: Economics professor honors talented faculty through new gift

Great teachers change lives and deserve to be celebrated.

Keller addressing honors graduates
Keller addressing honors graduates.

Economics professor, Robert Keller, certainly believed this after working with stellar colleagues for more than 45 years at Colorado State University before retiring from Colorado State University in May 2018. He dedicated his CSU career to excellence in teaching, in and out of the classroom, elevating educational programming across the campus and inspiring curiosity in his students.

“One of the primary reasons that I came to CSU in the first place was due to the high quality of teaching at the undergraduate and graduate levels,” shares Keller.

Keller, a first-generation student whose family emigrated from Germany and Switzerland, was raised with the expectation of attending and graduating from college.  His Aunt, who played a significant role in raising him, was fluent in six languages and encouraged him to excel in academics and emphasized how education could open doors for him.

Keller attended San Jose State College, in large part to run cross country and track.  While there, he was mentored by some excellent professors, who encouraged him to pursue the life of the mind and to be intellectually curious.  He earned a Master’s degree in Economics from UCLA and then applied his economics background to banking before going on to earn his Ph.D. in Economics from the University of Wisconsin, Madison.

During his time at CSU, Keller was able to engage in a variety of teaching opportunities with both undergraduate and graduate students. He taught theory, economic history, and the history of economic ideas because of his interest in the context and historical roots of the evolution economics, and he was driven to build that sense of curiosity and discovery in his students.

He worked diligently to learn more about his students to make his courses more meaningful for them.

“I read through all of my course surveys, thinking through the feedback, and implementing changes each semester. I cared about teaching and worked hard to improve my craft,” explains Keller.

Serving as chair of the Department of Economics, Associate Dean of the College of Liberal Arts, Interim College of Liberal Arts Dean, and Director of the University Honors Program, Keller fostered the importance and recognition of teaching and learning.  while working in the Honors Program, he worked with colleagues across campus to reshape and expand the Honors Program of studies to include more interdisciplinary seminars that fulfilled general education requirements and encouraged students to critically answer questions from the perspective of multiple disciplines.

Keller teaching last Semester at CSU, Economic History of U.S.

Another exciting change to the Honors Program was to pair faculty, who would normally advise graduate students on their theses, with promising undergraduate honors students, who needed to complete undergraduate honors theses to graduate as University Honors Scholars.

“The opportunity to connect undergraduate students with top scholars in their chosen fields was a phenomenal learning experience for our honors students,” says Keller. “For many students, their thesis work enabled them to compete for highly selective graduate programs and prestigious scholarships.”

After serving for twelve years as Honors Director, Keller returned to the Department of Economics.  That led to an exciting opportunity to participate in the exchange program with the Foreign Trade University Program in Hanoi, which brought economics professors to Vietnam to teach in the highly selective school. The bright, curious, and hardworking Vietnamese students were a joy to teach and the experience became a career highlight.  Teaching Vietnamese students emphasized that it takes bright and motivated students and talented and inspirational faculty to ignite the flame of inquiry that leads to discovery and learning.

He returned to CSU moved by the wonderful teaching opportunity and reminded of the heavy workloads that faculty carry. In addition to undergraduate teaching, his economics colleagues must juggle research, scholarship and publishing, mentoring graduate students, and providing service to the campus and beyond.

“As I prepared to retire, I wanted to leave a legacy behind that underscored the importance of undergraduate teaching that oftentimes receives less recognition than other faculty responsibilities,” he said.

Keller accepting award for teachers.
Keller accepting award for teachers.

Inspired by his talented Economics colleagues, Keller decided to leave a legacy that celebrates superb undergraduate teaching long into the future.  The Keller Faculty Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching honors economics faculty who energize their students, ignite the flame of inquiry and discovery, foster a love of learning by incorporating innovative learning techniques into the classroom and encourage students to think creatively and critically.

Many Economics faculty members are superb teachers of undergraduate students and the Keller Faculty Award is one way to recognize and honor their outstanding achievements.

During his retirement party, Keller was excited and pleased to announce the Department’s selection of the first Keller Faculty Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching recipient, Professor Nancy Jianakoplos.  She is a superb teacher and mentor of undergraduate students, coordinator for undergraduate studies, and faculty adviser to the Economics Club.  “Nancy exemplifies outstanding teaching and is a most deserving recipient of the Award,” says Keller.

Anyone can honor teachers who challenge their students and inspire their colleagues to strive for excellence in undergraduate teaching by making a gift to the Keller Faculty Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching endowment on the Online Giving Page.