The University of Mount Olive awarded the 2021 Dr. Thomas R. Morris Award for Excellence in Teaching to two professors.
Tying for the title this year were Amanda Bullard-Maxwell, assistant dean of education, and Brenda Cates, professor of mathematics.
Bullard-Maxwell and Cates were nominated by students and then selected by a faculty committee.
Bullard-Maxwell began working at UMO as an adjunct professor in the Division of Education in 2017. She became a full-time assistant professor in January 2018, and in July of that year she was named chair of the Division of Education. She assumed the role of assistant dean of education in August 2019. Prior to joining UMO, Bullard-Maxwell served various roles in education including elementary teacher, assistant principal, principal, director of professional development and beginning teacher support and director of elementary education. She retired from North Carolina public education in 2016 after 30 years of service.
Bullard-Maxwell uses her experiences as a career teacher and public school administrator to excite students about their futures and the potential they have to make a lasting impact on the lives of children. Her students are her biggest inspiration, but she also has a scripture that keeps her grounded in her work, “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men,” Colossians 3:23.
Upon receiving the Morris Teaching Award, Bullard-Maxwell said, “Words cannot express my gratitude in receiving this honor, especially in consideration that my students nominated me. They are why I am here. To have an active role in the preparation of the next generation of educators and to be recognized for my contributions has been the high point of a lifelong career in education.”
Born and raised in Sanford, Bullard-Maxwell currently resides in Dudley with her husband, Neil. In her spare time, she enjoys horseback riding, raising miniature donkeys, offshore fishing and running.
Brenda Cates is widely known on the UMO campus as the professor who loves teaching math. “I hope my enthusiasm rubs off on the classes I teach,” she said. “I don’t take myself too seriously, and I want students to feel comfortable in my class — that they can ask questions without feeling embarrassed. I’m also open and honest with my students so they clearly understand my expectations.”
Beyond those things, Cates’ students appreciate her for her caring attitude. “I care deeply about broadening their understanding of mathematical concepts, but I also care about them — and building relationships that go beyond the classroom. As the years go by, students will forget much of the content they learned in my classes, but I hope they remember having a positive experience, and leaving my class with a sense of accomplishment.”
Cates began working at Mount Olive College in 1982 when it was still a junior college. She serves as professor of mathematics; chair of the department of physical and mathematical sciences; NCAA faculty athletics representative; UMO honors program director and the official scorekeeper for UMO basketball games. At one time, she was the head women’s tennis coach.
The ability to wear many hats is one of the things that Cates enjoys most about working at UMO. She also enjoys the family atmosphere that is centered in faith.
“I like the family environment, including the students, faculty, staff and administrators,” she said. “We may not always agree, but I’ve seen, over and over again, our campus community come together to celebrate our achievements and milestones, and also come together to mourn our losses.”
Cates, a Duplin County native, was raised in Chinquapin and lived in the Warsaw/Kenansville area. She and her husband, Tim, moved to Mount Olive in 2019. Cates has two adult children, Daniel Cates and Samantha Pexa.
Benefactor of the Morris Award is the late Dr. Thomas R. Morris, a longtime supporter of the University of Mount Olive. Morris was a native of the Nahunta area, where he and his family were active members of Union Grove Original Free Will Baptist Church. He worked his way through the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Upon graduation from medical school, he was an optometrist and civic leader in Goldsboro until his retirement. Morris died earlier this year.
The University of Mount Olive is a private institution rooted in the liberal arts tradition with defining Christian values. The university is sponsored by the Convention of Original Free Will Baptists.