Professors recognized for superior teaching skills
By Communications Staff
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
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
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
Henri Boyi, Department of French
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
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
Felix Lee, Department of
"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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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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