Faculty of Graduate Studies honours great teachers

On May 5, members of the Faculty of Graduate Studies gathered to honour some of their own. During the Faculty’s council meeting, Professor Jane Irvine, fronm the Graduate Programs in Psychology and Kinesiology & Health Science, and Professor Isabel Killoran, from the Graduate Programs in Education and Critical Disability Studies, each received the Faculty of Graduate Studies’ Teaching Award for 2004-2005.

The Faculty of Graduate Studies’ Teaching Award is an honour which is bestowed annually to members of the Faculty who have displayed substantial and significant excellence, commitment and enthusiasm to teaching at the graduate level at York University. The award recognizes teaching and supervisory excellence at the graduate level. In addition, scholarly, professional and teaching development, and initiatives in graduate program and curriculum development are also considered. The annual adjudication of the awards, which takes place during a council meeting, was attended by more than 75 people, including York’s President and Vice-Chancellor Lorna R. Marsden.

In awarding the prize to Irvine, John Lennox, associate vice-president graduate and dean of the Faculty of Graduate Studies, explained that one of the goals of graduate education is fostering students’ self-confidence and self-efficacy, moving them towards independence and professionalism in their chosen fields.

Right: Jane Irvine

“Professor Irvine’s clinical and academic expertise in the areas of health psychology and cognitive behavioural approaches makes her one of the most highly sought-after faculty members in these areas,” said Lennox. “Her influence, both inside York and outside at research institutes, plays an important role in developing the lives of the students whom she mentors.

“What stands out in all the letters of support for this nomination is Professor Irvine’s ability to make each one of her students feel unique. She brings out their best by setting high standards and by dynamically encouraging her students to reach those standards. Students continually echo their high regard for Professor Irvine’s enthusiasm, knowledge, patience, accessibility, energy and concern,” said Lennox. “They speak most eloquently about her mentoring talents, which are demonstrated by her commitment to them in terms of support, guidance and encouragement. She is always accessible to her students and affords them opportunities through her own professional contacts that may have been lost to them otherwise.”

Lennonx said Irvine’s students also spoke about her engaging classroom lectures, replete with current literature and thought-provoking discussions that integrate theory with practice. He also noted the comment by one of her former students that “it is difficult not to become inspired.”

In addition to being a highly popular and talented teacher and supervisor, Irvine was cited for her administrative skills. “Volunteering to take on the directorship of the clinical area shortly after becoming a member of the program, Professor Irvine artfully shepherded the renewal of the clinical areas’ accreditation by the Canadian Psychological Association and the American Psychological Association,” said Lennox. “This daunting task required enormous amounts of energy and time, as well as the tact and skill required to enlist the aid of colleagues. Her success has brought an additional direct benefit to students. Professor Irvine is an outstanding role model for both graduate students and faculty. She personifies the qualities which this award is meant to acknowledge and celebrate.”

In awarding the prize to Killoran, Lennox described her teaching style as a unique balance of stimulating pedagogy, practicality, relevance and innovation. “Although Professor Killoran has been associated with York University for only five years, she has already supervised 21 theses and major research papers. Students gravitate to her because of her strong work ethic, outstanding mentorship and supervisory excellence. A gifted professor with a commitment to excellence, Professor Killoran has a way of inspiring her students to question their assumptions and rethink their own teaching practices in order to become more effective teachers,” said Lennox.

“A constant theme from all who commented on Professor Killoran’s worthiness for this award is the genuine concern for and commitment to each of her students. Former students remarked on her unparalleled ability to listen and empathize with them, demonstrating respect and fairness in light of individual differences. She initiates considerate two-way communication and imparts patience and caring.”

Right: Isabel Killoran

Killoran was also commended for her commitment to support graduate students by regularly applying for funding for graduate assistants, thereby offering her students opportunities to do more research, publish, and attend conferences.

Lennox noted that, as a student of learning, Killoran continually undergoes reflective self-evaluation and improvement to ensure her own effectiveness as the best teacher she can be. “Her commitment to reform in the larger schooling community, particularly in relation to her research areas of special inclusive education and early childhood education, has enhanced her own courses and the graduate program in education as a whole,” he said. “She brings out the best in each of her student through affirmation and encouragement, inspiring them all. Ultimately, she views herself as responsible for her students’ success.” In the words of one former student, Killoran is a “gift to the students of York University,” said Lennox.