When it comes to teaching, Health Studies professor Aleksandra Zecevic has one thing in mind – changing lives.
“Teaching is not only the content; it is a way of being, a way of doing, a way of shaping who students are going to be in the future.”
Today, Zecevic was named a 2020 3M National Teaching Fellow, widely seen as the top national award for teaching leadership at the postsecondary level. Western has a proud tradition of 3M National Teaching Fellows with 26 winners in the program’s history.
The award is sponsored by 3M Canada and the Society for Teaching and Learning in Higher Education (STLHE). The community of 3M National Teaching Fellows “embodies the highest ideals of teaching excellence and scholarship with a commitment to encourage and support the educational experience of every learner.”
“Being recognized as one of the leading higher education contributors in this amazing country of diversity we live in, blows my mind. This is above and beyond anything I thought was possible in this life. I am just thrilled,” Zecevic said.
She added she is grateful for the support from her colleagues across campus over the years, including the Centre for Teaching and Learning, School of Health Studies and Faculty of Health Sciences.
She continued, “This award is the result of so many things coming together. The support I’ve been given at Western for over 25 years, back to when I was a student, was absolutely essential in all of this.”
A multiple award-winning professor – including the International D2L Brightspace Innovation Award in Teaching and Learning from STLHE – Zecevic, MSc’97 (Kinesiology), PhD’06 (Kinesiology), said a good teacher doesn’t need to be the focus of the class, because teaching is about learning together.
“In my classrooms, I don’t stand and teach, I don’t deliver the content. I challenge students to learn the content and teach each other,” she said. “My classrooms are a collaborative teaching effort where I challenge my students to participate in all aspects of what I, as a teacher, am to do. So, they teach each other, too, and we learn together.”
STLHE wrote of her nomination:
Aleksandra Zecevic is a trailblazer for community-engaged learning, championing students and faculty as she brings the community into the classroom. She has engaged her students as partners to bring the teaching of aging to life. Together they have changed the local community through projects such as the Age Friendly Cities initiative, which has improved city paths, benches, and provided education to prevent ageism.
Her students have also collaboratively designed a mobile aging simulation, Evoking Empathy Lab, dedicated to helping people gain an appreciation of growing older. As a student said, “Nothing is more empowering than believing you are a valued member of the classroom because this mentality translates to believing you are an asset to society.”
Aleksandra is now reaching beyond Canada, enabling trans-national exposure to the best elder-care policies and practices in the world. Recently, she built connections through virtual classrooms and international travel between Canada, Sweden, Denmark and Norway. She works towards collaborative communities that are open, inclusive and ageless, using every opportunity to advocate for older adults and improvement of teaching and learning.
“These 10 educators will join the fellowship community of more than 300 dedicated and inspiring leaders who have all helped shape postsecondary education in Canada for the past three decades,” STLHE President Denise Stockley said. “Each recipient is a leader and educator who represents the Canadian post-secondary landscape at its best.”
3M National Teaching Fellows become life members of the society and will be recognized at the annual STLHE conference in June in Ottawa. The 10 fellows named this year will also be invited to attend a three-day teaching retreat where they will create new ways to foster academic excellence.
“I cannot wait to meet the fellows from my cohort, to share with them a little bit of what I have created over time. But I am also excited to listen to what they have to offer and see how we can do even better,” Zecevic said. “It will feel like a sandbox of like-minded kids building castles.”
Thinking about the mark she continues to make on the world, she said it all comes down to empowering the students come into her classroom.
“It’s my job to recognize their talent, like somebody recognized in me, and to nurture it and bring it to the point that every student I interact with can say, down the path of their career, that they overachieved every dream they had.”
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Western has a proud tradition of 3M National Teaching Fellows with 26 winners in the program’s history including:
2020 Aleksandra Zecevic, Health Studies
2019 Wendy Pearson, Women’s Studies and Feminist Research
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, Modern Languages and Literatures
1990 Colin Baird, Chemistry
1989 Paul Sills, Dentistry
1988 Peter Rosati, Engineering
1986 James Erskine, Business
1986 Eileen Gillese, Law