Hebl honored with George R. Brown Certificate of Highest Merit

On April 28, Professor of Psychology Michelle “Mikki” Hebl will become only the 10th faculty member to receive Rice University’s George R. Brown Certificate of Highest Merit. She will be recognized at the annual teaching awards ceremony from 3 to 5 p.m. in Duncan Hall’s McMurtry Auditorium.

Hebl honored with George R. Brown Certificate of Highest Merit

Mikki Hebl

Rice professors can receive this prestigious award just once in their career. When the George R. Brown awards were established in 1967, they were designed to honor outstanding performance in the classroom, and the rules limited how many times a faculty member could receive this honor.

A member of Rice’s faculty since 1998, Hebl has won seven George R. Brown teaching awards, which are based on votes of alumni two, three, and five years after receiving their undergraduate degrees. Faculty members who win three George R. Brown Awards for Excellence or the equivalent in total monetary value of a combination of George R. Brown Awards for Excellence and George R. Brown Awards for Superior Teaching become honorary lifetime recipients and are retired from the competition.

Hebl said that she feels appreciative of receiving the honor. She said that her favorite part of teaching at Rice is “bar none, the quality of the students.”

“I have many friends who are professors at Ph.D.-granting institutions, and they say to me, ‘Send me some of your Rice students!’ They know how ridiculously bright our students are,” Hebl said.

Hebl believes that great teaching involves “finding a message that you really believe in and then delivering it with as much passion as possible.” She also said that one of her most unforgettable classroom moments taught her a lot about the positive impact a teacher can have on students.

She mixed up two students who had the same name and unintentionally invited the one who didn’t do as well in her class to be part of her research team the following semester. After realizing the mistake, Hebl allowed the student to join the team anyway, and that student ended up publishing a first-author top-tier journal article with Hebl as an undergraduate, went on to receive a Ph.D. at Stanford and is now a very successful professor at a prestigious university. “This showed me the power that we have as teachers and the ability we have to influence people’s lives,” Hebl said.

Outside the classroom, Hebl is an avid runner who has completed marathons in all 50 states and has run marathons on four of the seven continents. She has described marathoning as “a good metaphor for life.”

Hebl offered the following advice for new teachers: “Enjoy the teaching moments. Not the ones that you are delivering to the students — the ones that they are delivering back to you.”

Hebl has received numerous teaching accolades throughout her career and was recently selected as one of three finalists for Baylor University’s Cherry Award, one of the nation’s most prestigious teaching awards. The award program is designed to honor great teachers, to stimulate discussion in the academy about the value of teaching and to encourage departments and institutions to value their own great teachers.


About Amy McCaig

Amy is a senior media relations specialist in Rice University's Office of Public Affairs.