A Missouri Southern State University graduate has received a rare and surprising honor for his teaching and mentorship skills with area students.

Tobin Schultz, a 2002 MSSU School of Education graduate who teaches and coaches football for the Joplin School District, was recognized Thursday at a special ceremony at Joplin High School. The presentation was led by the Milken Family Foundation, an organization that honors a small number of teachers across the nation each year for their excellence in teaching. Known as the “Oscars” of education, the Milken Educator Award provides recipients with a $25,000 cash prize.

Schultz, who grew up in Seneca and now lives in Joplin with his wife Shannon (BSE ’04) and two young children, says he was “shell shocked” to receive the award.

“(The employees) were told DESE (the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education) would be on hand for a special presentation, and we thought maybe the high school was being honored,” said Schultz, who attended the ceremony with his teaching colleagues, as well as students and district partners. “When they made the announcement, all I could think about were my colleagues and supervisors who were more worthy of this recognition than me. They do the hard work that makes me look good, and the reality is that so many of them are doing such good work too.”

Schultz teaches a class called Link Crew, a junior and senior mentoring class which helps middle school students transition to high school life. He also supervises the district’s cadet teachers, teaches a course on current events, and coaches 7th grade football. Additionally, he assists Missouri Southern with its summer Upward Bound program.

The Milken Family Foundation quietly scouts and researches excellent teachers across the nation to honor with the award, and often the recipients do not even know they were being considered. That was the case for Schultz, who is very humble about the attention he has received.

“This is very much deserved for him,” said Robin Hicklin, director of MSSU’s Upward Bound program who formerly taught alongside Schultz. “He goes beyond anyone’s expectations for students. He looks at education as his mission and does whatever it takes to help students achieve their goals. He’s a great teacher and a quality individual with high integrity. This couldn’t be more deserved.”

Schultz credits a host of former Missouri Southern professors – Dr. Virginia Laas, Dr. Larry Cebula and Dr. Karl Schmidt specifically – for giving him a strong foundation during his years as a student.

“My time at Missouri Southern was very productive and the professors did a great job preparing me to be successful,” Schultz said. “I appreciate that they’ve continued to be a part of my life after graduation and that MSSU continues to partner with me in my career as an educator by supporting Joplin High School.”