3M Award celebrates three decades of excellence

Visual Arts professor emerita Madeline Lennon didn’t set out to change lives; she looked to inspire them.

“I always knew I wanted to teach,” Lennon said. “When I started, I thought, ‘Gee, I’m really enjoying this so I’m going to do what I want to do and it’s not like anyone will thank me for it.’ You just have to do what you want, and what you have passion for, as best as you can.”

In 1990, Lennon was awarded the 3M National Teaching Fellowship for her work developing the university’s Comparative Literature program. And now, she will join her peers later this month to celebrate the 30th anniversary of that fellowship and the work it continues to encourage.

During the Society for Teaching and Learning in Higher Education (STLHE) National Conference, hosted at Western, 3M Canada and STLHE will recognize this landmark year for the program that has recognized 298 university professors – including 24 at Western. Western is second in the country, behind the University of Alberta, for the most 3M National Teaching Fellowships.

Established in 1986, the award was the brainchild of then-3M President John Myser, who believed in recognizing great teachers. Each year, up to 10 professors across the country are recognized for their educational leadership and exceptional contributions to teaching and learning at Canadian universities.

“We know great teachers create great students and great students then create great solutions in the world,” said Liisa Sheldrick, Communications and 3Mgives Leader for 3M Canada. “It is about stretching beyond what is typical.”

Moving forward, college professors will also be eligible for the award beginning next year. That is an addition consistent with the program’s history, Sheldrick explained.

“We take pride in our role in recognizing original contributions to teaching and learning and supporting every learner’s educational experience,” she said. “This change reflects the evolving nature of postsecondary education and continues to support the original intent of the fellowship.”

Honours like the 3M Award means the world to professors like Lennon.

“You go along with your life and you don’t see the overall impact of your teaching,” she said, who noted she was moved to tears when reading the nomination package. “It gives you a kind-of energy. I’ve seen it over and over again – just an institutional pat on the back and someone saying, ‘You know, you are doing a good job.’ To see that other people see what you are doing and value it, is huge.”

While Western prides itself on being a research-intensive university, the teaching mission is equally important and deserves recognition, Lennon said. “Teaching is still not as highly valued as research, and I understand that. But we need to continue to understand the significance of teaching at this level and this is one way in which we do it. I’ve always believed your research feeds your teaching, and vice versa.”

Signaling a shift in prioritizing teaching at Western, the Teaching Dossier was made part of the process for Tenure and Promotion in 1996.

“The teaching always comes first for me,” Lennon continued. “I love getting to know the students and see them come alive. I want them to really see and understand what they are looking at because I think it plays a role in their whole life. They are not just looking at paintings or sculptures.”

Lennon has translated her expertise through peer mentoring and support through the Teaching Support Centre. Now a professor emerita, her career has come full circle as she is the co-ordinator for the Faculty Mentor Program at the centre. Recently, there has been an increase in research on teaching in different fields, which Lennon noted has added to the conversations about how to teach effectively and elevates the level of understanding the importance of teaching.

“I really feel very fortunate to have the career I did here and having this job now – coordinating the mentoring program for faculty – has been a wonderful way of rounding out my career,” she said.

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Western has a proud tradition of 3M National Teaching Fellows with 24 winners in the program’s history including:

2014 Cameron Tsujita, Earth Sciences

2013 Mark Goldszmidt, Medicine

2012 Marjorie Johnson, Anatomy and Cell Biology

2008 Jim Silcox, Obstetrics and Gynecology

2005 Anton Allahar, Sociology

2004 Bertha Garcia, Pathology

2000 Francis Ping-Hung Chan, Anatomy and Cell Biology

1998 Mike Atkinson, Psychology

1996 Donald Cartwright, Geography

1995 Tom Haffie, Plant Sciences

1994 David Bentley, English

1994 Paul Mercer, Physiology

1993 Brock Fenton, Biology

1993 Marilyn Robinson, Physiology

1992 H.G. Murray, Physiology

1992 Wayne Weston, Medicine

1991 Alan Gedalof, English

1991 T.D. Gaily, Physics

1990 Madeline Lennon, Visual Arts

1990 Colin Baird, Chemistry

1989 Paul Sills, Dentistry

1988 Peter Rosati, Engineering

1986 James Erskine, Business

1986 Eileen Gillese, Law