Six winners representing six different faculties have been awarded Western’s highest honour for the “highest calling.”
“Western values pedagogical innovation that inspires active and deep learning in our students,” said Janice Deakin, provost and vice-president (academic). “I hope all faculty, staff and students will join me in congratulating these colleagues for distinguishing themselves by virtue of their skills in the classroom, laboratory or clinical setting.”
This year’s winners join a company of teachers nearly a quarter century in the making.
Established in 1980-81, the University Awards for Excellence in Teaching were named in 1987 in honour of Edward Gustav Pleva, Western’s first Geography teacher in 1938 and head of the department from 1948-68.
Established in 1989-90, the Award for Excellence in Teaching by Part-Time Faculty was renamed in 2003 in honour of Angela Mary Armitt, BA’36, MA’67, LLD’87, a champion of life-long learning, and Western’s first dean of the faculty of Part-Time and Continuing Education.
Established in 1996-97, the Award for Excellence in Teaching was established to be awarded based on evidence of outstanding contributions in the area of classroom, laboratory or clinical instruction.
The award was later named after Physiology professor and Educational Development Office coordinator Marilyn Robinson, who became captivated with the idea of exciting students by means of active learning and problem solving.
Continuing these traditions today, we present the 2014-15 awards for excellence in teaching.
School of Health Studies, Faculty of Health Sciences
EDWARD G. PLEVA AWARD FOR EXCELLENCE IN TEACHING
During her tenure, Jennifer Irwin has demonstrated her enthusiasm for the education of her students. She believes the best way to teach is to inspire and, though the content of her courses may change with the years, the “students’ love for learning and abilities to problem-solve will withstand time.” This commitment is shown not only through a career decorated by numerous awards and accolades, but also with a trail of students changed for the better.
Irwin has “made a remarkable impression” on her students. Her colleagues are “continually inspired by (her) natural ability to instill in her students the love of learning and to share that passion broadly.” Her teaching has been hailed as “engaging, interesting, and thought-provoking” and she consistently receives excellent evaluations of her teaching. Her innovative methods are aimed at not only teaching her students, but enriching the lives of everyone within the community.
This is most clearly demonstrated with her voluntary project, The Butterfly Effect: A Legacy Though Kindness, which had students perform random acts of kindness in the community. She hopes these random acts encourage further acts of kindness and that cause a cascade of kindness across the campus community.
Lars Konermann aims to make every student laugh at least once during every lecture – no easy feat when the subject matter is Thermodynamics, a topic acknowledged by Lars’ colleagues as “notoriously difficult to teach and very hard to learn.”
Among Konermann’s many achievements during his 15 years at Western is the total redesign of this flagship Chemistry course, which he delivers with humour and infectious enthusiasm. One student testified “the sounds of students oohing and ahhing when professor Konermann explains the most abstract mathematical and physical principles with memorable experiments is absolutely amazing.”
Small wonder this previously under-enrolled course has become so popular that classes had to be relocated to the Western Science Centre to accommodate the large numbers.
Outside the lecture theatre, Konermann gives generously of his own time to his students, and they thrive under his mentorship. He inspires a sense of curiosity in his students; one commented that “students who take his classes leave the course as better thinkers and problem solvers.”
Department of Chemical and Biochemical Engineering, Faculty of Engineering
EDWARD G. PLEVA AWARD FOR EXCELLENCE IN TEACHING
For a number of years, Kibret Mequanint has taken on some of the most challenging of the required courses in Engineering, yet still maintained his teaching ratings well above the average in his department and faculty.
One student said, “Dr. Mequanint constantly draws connections between the course content and different aspects of everyday life, which is imperative in the area of engineering.” Another student echoed those sentiments, “He somehow manages to add magical ingredients into the course material and makes it interesting and easy to understand.”
But Mequanint is more than a superb classroom teacher.
He has been crucial to the success of the 2+2 programs in which students from China take two years at their home university and two at Western. Through his mentoring, Mequanint has helped take care of students’ academic needs and made their stay here “a fantastic experience.”
He has been actively involved in academic outreach, both nationally and internationally, and part of the Canadian Institutes of Health Research Synapse national mentoring program for high school students who are interested in the involvement of engineers in life sciences research. He has also played a leading role in curriculum design and educational training at the Addis Ababa Institute of Technology in Ethiopia.
Department of Biology, Faculty of Science and Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry
EDWARD G. PLEVA AWARD FOR EXCELLENCE IN TEACHING
As a jointly appointed professor in the Faculty of Science and Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry, Charles Trick exemplifies Edward Pleva’s sentiment that “teaching is one of the highest callings.”
Trick’s platform of teaching is highly interdisciplinary and broad ranging from classrooms to global stages. He uses his research program as an effective base for educating leaders in Canada and abroad in the challenging field of ecosystem health. His teaching philosophy aims to train his students to become strong in this area through engagement, professionalism and leadership.
In his quarter century at Western, Trick’s dedication to teaching and public education was recognized by 11 appearances on the University Students’ Council Teaching Honour Roll, and was selected as inaugural winners of the Faculty of Science Award for Excellence in Teaching and the Fallona Interdisciplinary Science Award. One student summarized his teaching well: “His course is a rollercoaster of bees, cholera, nuclear power and sustainable development. I did not merely learn; I was empowered to pursue knowledge and become an educator, an advocate and most importantly a productive global citizen.”
Apart from his excellence in classroom teaching, Trick also practises outstanding high-impact experiential teaching. He took his students and class to Africa, Central America and Southeast Asia, to work with local people and students, to learn and deal with ecosystem health issues, from improving water quality of the Naivasha Lake Basin in Kenya to helping and training local communities in Guatemala, Philippines, Indonesia, Cook Islands and Vietnam to monitor harmful algae and toxins in their local environments. His exceptional efforts in public education and outreach were recognized by the inaugural Western Humanitarian Award in 2011.
Trick is readily and widely recognized by his peers as a world-class scholar, a modest gentleman and an exceptionally gifted educator.
Department of Classical Studies, Faculty of Arts & Humanities
MARILYN ROBINSON AWARD FOR EXCELLENCE IN TEACHING
Although at Western for less than four years, Elizabeth Greene has had a tremendous impact on the student experience here. Teaching evaluations for her courses have put her on the University Students’ Council Teaching Honor Roll every year since she was appointed.
Among the many enthusiastic student comments, one student said, “This class was an eye-opener, never had I expected to learn so much from a course. I wish we had more time.”
But it is her impact outside the traditional classroom that makes her stand out from being merely an excellent teacher. Greene is a field archaeologist who works on Roman sites at Vindolanda, in northern England. At Western, she has developed, along with her colleague, Alex Meyer, a six-week intensive field school program, where students can get a six-week, hands-on introduction to field archaeology. The school is a model of experiential learning some students have reported as life-altering.
Greene is the perfect example of someone who brings her research into the classroom and her class into her research.
Faculty of Information and Media Studies
ANGELA ARMITT AWARD FOR EXCELLENCE IN TEACHING BY PART-TIME FACULTY
Since 2008, Warren Steele has been a part-time assistant professor with the Faculty of Information and Media Studies. During the last six and a half years, Steele has significantly contributed to the academic development of his students by both challenging and encouraging them in lectures. His “three-point” teaching philosophy – learning students’ names, telling them a story and leaving them surprised – has not gone unnoticed. His students call attending his classes “one of the highlights of (their) day” and his lectures “like no other.”
Outside of the classroom, Steele’s research interests include the philosophy of technology; teaching and responsibility; the politics of love, memory, mourning and melancholia in postwar American Literature and Cold War science fiction; among others.
He is highly respected by his students and peers, and was asked to teach MIT 2500: The Matter of Technology, a course usually taught by tenured staff. Steele has given numerous presentations, including generously presenting part of his manuscript at a student organized weekend conference last year.