Professors recognized for superior teaching skills


By Communications Staff
Thursday, February 26, 2009
Chemistry, French Studies, Biology, English and Women’s Studies and Feminist are diverse disciplines with at least one thing in common – faculty have been lauded for their teaching brilliance with excellence in teaching awards.
Known as the Edward G. Pleva Awards for Excellence in Teaching and the Marilyn Robinson Award for Excellence in Teaching, the awards point to outstanding contributions to classroom instruction, academic counselling and tutoring, thesis supervision, course design, curriculum development, preparation of educational materials, research on university teaching, and development of innovative teaching methods.
To date 96 Pleva and 16 Robinson awards have been made. Here are brief bios of this year's award winners compiled from supporting material for their nominations.
Edward G. Pleva Award for Excellence in Teaching

Robert Dean, Department of Biology

Designing investigative experiments for students to perform, rather than merely algorithmic, in his opinion is “pedagogically superior because it provides skills that are more readily applied in attempting to answer novel questions.”
Dean’s teaching philosophy is practiced daily by those who enroll in the Scientific Methods in Biology, a course largely dreamt up by Dean in the early 90s.

Students describe Dean as “always maintan[ing] his integrity as a responsible, assertive, and passionate teacher.” He is described by the Senate Subcommittee on Teaching Awards (SUTA) as “a colleague who is entirely devoted to the profession of teaching in all of its aspects and who has demonstrated sustained excellence in this profession.”
Dean’s distinguished career includes nearly a dozen peer-reviewed articles on science education and coauthoring “Bio-Animate” software used in over 200 institutions throughout the world.
Dean has been inspiring biology students and colleagues at Western since 1975, and was appointed a faculty member in 2001. He is a graduate of the University of Nottingham. His exemplary teaching was recognized in 2006 with the Faculty of Science Award for Undergraduate Teaching.
John Leonard, Department of English
As one of John Leonard’s colleagues recalled about the opportunity to team-teach with him, “It was the finest pedagogical experience of my career, as I watched my colleague’s superb teaching instincts bring English literature to life for his students.”
Many of the letters from students, past and present, profoundly proclaim Leonard’s capacities to recite from heart, to dramatize, and to inspire at all levels from first-year course experiences to doctoral seminars. One graduate student states, “he breathes new life into close reading. He is a warm, helpful, and considerate professor.”
Leonard’s impact was not confined to the classroom; he has served as Graduate Chair where he was innovative in course design, curriculum development, and graduate student recruitment. In the same vein, he has published educational materials related to teaching literature; one of the most highly regarded of these is the series of Penguin Milton editions, classroom editions now being used around the world in Undergraduate and Graduate courses.
Professor Allan Gedalof, a multi teaching-award winner and professor emeritus wrote, “John Leonard is a fabulous teacher who shares his exceptional scholarship with uncommon generosity, talent, and enthusiasm. He is an inspirational teacher who embodies the principles and practices that the Pleva award was created to recognize. It is an honour he richly merits.”
Marilyn Robinson Award for Excellence in Teaching 

Henri Boyi, Department of French Studies
As noted in his teaching philosophy, Henri Boyi’s twin aims as a professor are “to teach and delight,” and from all students’ and colleagues’ reports to date he is clearly very successful at both. Boyi embodies all the hallmarks of an outstanding teacher, for in addition to classroom instruction, Boyi’s availability for students is unqualified. As his principal nominator says, “Henri Boyi is one of the most beloved teachers in the faculty.”
Students speak of his deep sense of caring, his ability to motivate them, and at the same time insist on high standards. Indeed, Boyi is not popular because he is a pushover, but rather because he pushes the students to excel.
One student, who is a professor emeritus, wrote that Boyi has a “light touch” that is buttressed by patience, and goes on to add that he has “benefited from two years of Professor Boyi’s demanding and inspiring teaching.”
Another grateful student confesses that “Henri always believed in me and inspired me to realize my potential.” In a department and a faculty that seems to have more than its fair share of outstanding teachers, Henri Boyi excels; and that is no easy feat.  
Felix Lee, Department of Chemistry 
“My role is to help students learn by getting them involved”, says Felix Lee. “By encouraging them to understand, I am also challenging them intellectually and helping them to develop the abilities that are important in any discipline.”
Lee’s well-rounded list of accomplishments is emphasized by his incredible teaching evaluation scores, which are routinely at the very highest level. As one student points out, “he has not only turned my most hated subject into my favorite; he has inspired me to do well in subsequent courses and life events.”
In addition to his teaching load, Lee has also been involved in an extensive restructuring of the first-year chemistry course. While his involvement increases, his colleagues have noted his commitment and ability. As another professor points out, “He is obviously recognized as an excellent teacher, and now he is helping the faculty by being a teacher’s teacher.”
Lee has taught at Western since 2004. He is a graduate of both the University of Manitoba and of Dalhousie University, and has been recognized by the University Students’ Council Teaching Honour Roll for the past three years.  
Kim Solga, Department of English
Since her appointment in 2005, Kim Solga has distinguished herself, in the words of one student, as “a wonderful, warm, engaging teacher, a dedicated mentor, and, above all, a reminder of the value of an Arts education.”
She has been praised by both undergraduates and graduates students for her “enthusiasm, creativity, and academic rigour.”
Solga teaches modern and early modern drama, including Shakespeare, in the Department of English. An innovative teacher, she frequently employs ‘performance pedagogy,’ using students’ performances of scenes from the assigned plays as the foundation for their critical analysis and discussion of these works.
Students feel free to become involved, express themselves, and test ideas because Solga makes her classroom warm, comfortable, and stimulating. As one colleague put it, “what she is teaching and how she teaches it are so beautifully integrated that her students experience multiple engagements at once: scholarly, practical, theatrical, kinetic.”
Solga’s influence extends widely - her achievements as a teacher and supervisor are coupled with her educational leadership. She is active in undergraduate advising, curriculum development, supervision and instructional development with graduate students, and research on the effectiveness of collaborative teaching. She has contributed to educational outreach through the Stratford Shakespeare Festival.
Kim Verwaayen, Department of Women's Studies and Feminist Research
Marilyn Robinson was described as: “an enthusiastic and inspirational lecturer … much loved by and respected by both colleagues and students … she was always available for students and each was dealt with warmly and compassionately.” There could not be a better description for Professor Kim Verwaayen.
During her time in the Centre for, and now Department of, Women’s Studies and Feminist Research, Verwaayen has excelled as a classroom teacher, course designer, curriculum developer, academic counsellor, supervisor of GTAs, and Chair of Undergraduate Studies.
In each of those areas, she has brought her understanding of the factors that are most important in ensuring students receive the very best education. A member of the first graduating class in the MA program says of Verwaayen, “she is not only a teacher to me, but she’s also a role model whom I greatly admire.”
It must also be said that Professor Verwaayen played a vital role in the transition of the Centre for Women’s Studies and Feminist Research to a full-fledged department. And the successes now enjoyed by the department are due in no small part to the work she put in as a founding member.


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