Caring mentors. Gifted teachers. Innovative thinkers.
Outstanding faculty members and a team of course designers are being recognized for actively engaging and inspiring students as recipients of the 2021 Western Awards of Excellence in Teaching. Nominated by their peers and students, the recipients will be recognized at the April 16 Senate meeting.
EDWARD G. PLEVA AWARD FOR EXCELLENCE IN TEACHING
Established in 1980-81, the University Awards for Excellence in Teaching were later named in honour of Edward Gustav Pleva, Western’s first geography teacher (1938) and head of the department (1948-68).
KIM SOLGA, Department of English and Writing Studies, Faculty of Arts & Humanities
Kim Solga is described as a “generous, innovative and influential teacher.” As a significant voice in the field of theatre studies, she is deeply committed to her discipline, her students, and her peers.
Colleagues worldwide speak to the creative spaces Solga uses to develop skills critically needed today. Students past and present comment on her ability to help them engage with content and ideas and “learn how to learn”.
Solga considers herself “an activist teacher with a student-centered practice.” Her successful pursuit of multiple grants, always connected to outreach and experiential learning opportunities for her students, is consistently connected to her care for the other.
Solga’s generosity of spirit is reflected in her ground-breaking teaching blog, The Activist Classroom, where teachers of all disciplines are encouraged to engage around pedagogy and performance.
She is a past recipient of The Marilyn Robinson Award for Teaching, two separate excellence in editing awards, and the Graham and Gale Wright Distinguished Scholar Award.
MICHELE WEIR, Department of Pathology & Laboratory Medicine, Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry
Dr. Michele Weir is lauded for being “thoughtful and humble,” and recognized as an “amazing mentor and leader in education.”
Through her award-winning teaching, major curriculum development and educational leadership, Dr. Weir has made countless contributions at Western and beyond. Her engaging teaching style has been recognized through many honours, including the Hippocratic Undergraduate Medical Education Committee Award and the Canadian Association for Medical Education Certificate of Merit, a national award for peer recognition for contributions to undergraduate medical education.
With her compassion and open-door policy, she helps many people through challenging times, sharing her own experiences, and offering practical advice.
Dr. Weir has been at the forefront of the Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry renewal and has contributed significantly to the new competence-based undergraduate medical curriculum. She is a strong advocate for introducing Indigenous health and cultural competencies into the field of care.
MARILYN ROBINSON AWARD FOR EXCELLENCE IN TEACHING
Established in 1996-97, the Award for Excellence in Teaching is presented for outstanding contributions in classroom, laboratory, or clinical instruction. The award was later named after physiology professor and educational development office coordinator Marilyn Robinson, who prized the idea of students’ active learning and problem-solving.
AMY HORTON, Arthur Labatt Family School of Nursing, Faculty of Health Sciences
Amy Horton is considered a shining example of what it means to lead with empathy and integrity. As a full-time lecturer in the Arthur Labatt Family School of the Nursing, and a primary health care nurse practitioner, her professional and pedagogical philosophy is grounded in warmth and compassion.
Horton takes an active learning approach. She draws on the lived experiences of guest speakers and designs thoughtful case studies to help students develop critical thinking skills within an inclusive and supportive learning environment. Glowing testaments from students and colleagues highlight Horton’s exceptional instruction and commitment to evidence-based practice.
In addition to her teaching, Horton provides vital curriculum development and support to her colleagues. She championed incorporating Indigenous health content and equity-oriented approaches to health care into the curriculum, and integrated content around cultural safety and harm reduction.
PAUL MENSINK, Department of Biology, Faculty of Science
Paul Mensink’s teaching philosophy is grounded in a commitment to active learning and in creating an environment where students engage deeply in their own education. His enthusiasm sparks excitement and curiosity in his students, as does his wide range of teaching strategies to optimize learning.
Mensink recognizes his students will have career paths as diverse as their backgrounds and has successfully designed his teaching to help them develop skills to succeed academically and to equip them with attributes that will serve them into their future.
He has developed immersive technologies to conduct virtual field trips and established a partnership with the Nature Conservancy of Canada to create a community-engaged learning opportunity where students helped create a habitat restoration plan for Pelee Island.
Mensink’s latest article on student feedback in learning management systems was published in a top journal for eLearning, and his research has been covered by CNN, The Ryersonian and University Affairs.
ANGELA ARMITT AWARD FOR EXCELLENCE IN TEACHING BY PART-TIME FACULTY
Established in 1989-90, the Awards for Excellence in Teaching by Part-time Faculty were later named in honour of Angela Mary Armitt, A’36, MA’67, LLD ’87, a champion of lifelong learning, and Western’s first dean of the Faculty of Part-Time and Continuing Education.
ANNA MADELSKA, Department of Visual Arts, Faculty of Arts & Humanities
Anna Madelska is recognized by her peers and students for going above and beyond what is typically expected of a part-time instructor. Her studio classes are described as “incredible experiences.” She actively seeks out professional opportunities for her students, which have fostered learning and growth and opened many doors.
From first-year introductory courses to final capstone projects, Madelska is known for her intense mentoring of her students. She cares with equal passion for their learning and their futures.
Madelska’s ability to connect academic theory to the grassroots art scene in London has enriched students’ learning, while raising the profile of local artists. Her ability to bridge the student experience with the local community has given countless graduates the opportunity to enter their future professions with skills and confidence.
NIKI SHARAN, Department of Biology, Faculty of Science
Niki Sharan, an expert in molecular biology and genetics, is recognized as an “impassioned educator.” She has made repeated appearances on Western’s University Student’s Council Award of Excellence in Undergradate Teaching honour roll for her pedagogical excellence and is described among her colleagues as “a generous, scholarly leader.”
Sharan’s leadership extends from the classroom to course administration, course design, and more recently, educational research. Through a funded longitudinal study, she is currently researching the impact of online examinations and student career trajectories.
This award comes as no surprise to Western’s dean of science, Matt Davison, who describes Sharan’s work in support of Western students as “heroic.”
Professor Sharan credits her teaching success to her students, colleagues, her family and especially her father – a university professor of over 40 years – who inspired and helped guide her. Sharan welcomes her new role as a full-time faculty member, teaching first-year biology to over 2200 students each year.
WESTERN AWARD FOR INNOVATIONS IN TECHNOLOGY-ENHANCED TEACHING
This award recognizes and rewards the contributions of faculty members who have significantly improved the experience and outcomes of their students through the intentional incorporation of technology into their teaching practice.
WILLIAM TURKEL, Department of History, Faculty of Social Science
Bill Turkel is a pioneer in the field of digital history and a member of the Royal Society of Canada’s College of New Scholars, Artists, and Scientists. A unifying thread across Turkel’s teaching and research is his use of technology to explore the past.
His methods offer students hands-on opportunities to experiment and gain confidence with digital technologies. In courses ranging from Digital Research Methods to Spy versus Spy, Turkel’s students learn how to “scrape” images, reproduce artifacts from digital scans, and use code and interactive mapping software. Applying this knowledge not only transforms how students think about conducting historical research, but also gifts them with enduring skillsets and digital literacies.
Turkel’s impact on teaching and learning extends far beyond Western. His open-source, open-access textbook, Digital Research Methods with Mathematica allows scholars and students to learn about the innovative techniques Turkel uses in the classroom. This open-source approach reflects his generosity and desire to empower others through his teaching.
THE VICE-PROVOST (ACADEMIC PROGRAMS) AWARD FOR EXCELLENCE IN ONLINE TEACHING AND LEARNING
Designed to recognize and reward the efforts of instructors who have demonstrated outstanding online teaching through exemplary online course design.
TOM STAVRAKY, ANGELA BEYE, ANITA WOODS, CHRISTIE VANDERBOOR, BOUN THAI and TEMITOPE AKINTOLA (student intern)
Department of Physiology and Pharmacology, Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry
Designing a fully online, collaborative, team-based lab course for 200 students taught by 14 instructors is a considerable undertaking in any year. The team of Tom Stavraky, Angela Beye, Anita Woods, Christie Vanderboor, Boun Thai and student intern Temitope Akintola did so during a pandemic.
Kudos for their work was widespread. One student credited the team for providing “what must now be one of the finest learning experiences at Western,” while a colleague applauded their efforts to “meet and exceed expectations with respect to our overall teaching mission during these difficult times.”
By involving course designers from multiple areas, the group used a variety of accessible and carefully selected eLearning tools and activities to create student-driven labs. Innovations included several unique digital “toolboxes” to guide students through experimental techniques, and scenarios to challenge them to think more critically. Creative use of eLearning tools such as Microsoft Teams enabled student teams, faculty mentors, and course leads to clearly communicate and share feedback and ideas.