PEMBROKE — Joe Williams acquired the skills at UNC Pembroke he needed to become a pharmacist and a multi-business owner.
However, the self-confidence he gained after forming what would eventually become a lifelong bond with his business professor, Dr. Stewart Thomas, led him on the path to success. Williams went on to earn a pharmacy degree and today owns three pharmacies, two businesses, a property management company and a consulting firm.
“Dr. Thomas impacted my entire life,” Williams said. “From the first 10 minutes in my Intro to Accounting class in 2001, I knew he would be someone I would enjoy being around. It wasn’t a student-teacher relationship. It was more of a colleague relationship.
“I had some wonderful professors at UNCP, but Dr. Thomas made the biggest impact on me.”
Williams is one of the countless lives Thomas has impacted as a member of the School of Business faculty for 21 years. Recently, the UNC System selected Thomas as the recipient of the 2022 Award for Excellence in Teaching.
“Dr. Thomas’ passion for students and their success is inspiring,” said UNCP Chancellor Robin Gary Cummings. “His selection by his colleagues for this prestigious honor is a testament to the commitment he shows to his work, furthering the mission of our university, and most importantly, his commitment to his students, which extends far beyond the classroom and their graduation day.”
The award recognizes the extraordinary contribution of faculty members across the UNC System.
“I am honored and humbled,” Thomas said. “I’ve been so blessed and fortunate to be a part of such an awesome environment, and to have been selected among so many outstanding faculty and peers who are equally or more deserving is a very humbling experience.”
Stewart joined the faculty following an 18-year career in industry, most of the time as the controller for Eaton Corporation. Those experiences and challenges helped him become a better instructor and prepare students for the future.
He incorporates philosophical and practical components in his teaching philosophy, including using technology, placing students in real-world experiences, and utilizing research. Thomas also believes in leading by example.
“I believe teaching and leadership are similar, and they should be collaborative. I don’t want to walk into a classroom and lecture. I want to walk into a classroom, put an idea out on the table, provide some context and meaning behind it, let students discuss it, and let that learning be more of a generic internal type of learning.”
Throughout his UNCP career, Thomas has stepped up to serve in various administrative roles, including vice chancellor of Finance and Administration, interim associate provost, associate and interim dean of the School of Business.
He came back to the classroom in 2020.
“I missed the students. I wanted to be involved in their lives. It’s the students and those professors and colleagues that I’ve learned from in the past. They are the true recipients of this award. Without them, I would have been nothing in the classroom.
“My proudest moments are witnessing the accomplishments of my students. I still engage with those students from that first year, like Joe Williams. I am proud to watch students mature at UNCP, but it means a lot more when you see how they mature and develop through their education and then mature as businesspeople as well.”