In a continued effort to bridge the gap between the University of Utah and the Salt Lake University Institute of Religion, the fourth-annual Excellence in Education Award ceremony was held at the institute Tuesday.

Chemistry professor Gregory Owens was selected as the recipient of the institute-sponsored award for his enthusiasm for the subjects he teaches and his ability to inspire students, said speakers at the luncheon held in the institute's atrium.

"(Professor Owens) has helped me to develop a more inquisitive mind," said Jon Wheelwright, a former student of Owens'. "He expects a lot out of his students. He expects us to actually put forth an effort."

Other students said Owens' encouraging lectures prior to exams and his accessibility and willingness to meet with them made a significant impact on their education.

"I could sit and listen to him lecture all day," said Grace Murdock, an exercise science major and member of the institute's campus relations committee.

Of the more than 500 ballots cast, which included nominations for some 200 professors, Owens received a "pretty significant margin" of the votes, said David Warner, director of the institute's campus relations committee, which put on the event. Warner said the Excellence in Education award is one of many of the committee's efforts to "connect with campus," so the two institutions aren't competitors.

Owens is not LDS, and religion is not considered in the selection process.

In his acceptance speech, Owens thanked his wife and mentors for their support, and his students for teaching him valuable lessons.

"They have taught me patience. They have taught me compassion," said Owens, who began teaching at the university in 2002.

Institute director Allan Gunnerson thanked Owens for his commitment to education, and said the title of "teacher" is the greatest compliment a professor or doctor could receive.

"These students need good teachers, teachers who inspire," Gunnerson said.

After the luncheon, Owens said he had no idea students at the institute were so fond of him and was shocked when he heard he was selected from the thousands of faculty members. Owens serves on the University Teaching Committee, a body which, in part, selects and awards university professors for their distinguished service, so he's familiar with the exceptional educators at the university.

"Knowing that, and then being chosen among all of those, I still think someone must have made a mistake," he said.

When asked what he thinks he thinks sets him apart, Owens said, "I don't know that I do anything revolutionary as far as methods. I just try to relate the science to things they've seen before and to stimulate their thought."

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