Celebrating great teachers

Two York faculty members were recognized by their peers during the Faculty of Graduate Studies Graduate Council meeting on April 6. Professor Lesley Higgins of the graduate programs in English and Humanities and Professor Stephen Weiss of the graduate program at the Schulich School of Business each received the Faculty of Graduate Studies’ Teaching Award. There were approximately 50 people in attendance at the council meeting.

Left: Schulich Professor Stephen Weiss with English and Humanities Professor Lesley Higgins

Bestowed annually to a member or members of the Faculty who have displayed substantial, significant and sustained excellence, commitment and enthusiasm to the multifaceted aspects of teaching at the graduate program level, the Faculty of Graduate Studies Teaching Award recognizes teaching and supervisory excellence. In addition, scholarly, professional and teaching development and initiatives in graduate program and curriculum development are considered. Nominations are reviewed and the selection made by the FGS standing committee on awards.

In awarding the prize to Higgins, Professor Ron Pearlman, interim dean of the Faculty of Graduate Studies, described her as an “exceptional” teacher. “The requisite English program’s Bibliography course, taught by Prof. Higgins, which students tend to anticipate as a ‘dry requirement’ becomes a riveting and enlightening course under her direction,” said Pearlman during his introduction for Higgins. “Students regularly flock to her other course offerings and consistently request to work with her as either a supervisor or directed reading instructor.

Right: Dean Ron Pearlman (left) presents the award to Professor Lesley Higgins

“Her encyclopedic knowledge is shared with her students in ways that are animated, inspiring and memorable. Students spoke of her teaching style as riveting and engaging, moving easily between formal and informal presentation methods,” said Pearlman. “Allusions to contemporary popular culture, an appealing sense of humour, and the utilization of innovative teaching aids all contribute to providing her students with an exceptional learning environment”

Pearlman said Higgins’ most valuable gifts are her generosity and expertise. “She gives freely of her time, her resources and her expertise. Her eagle-eye approach to her students work is keen, intricate and thorough, described as an ‘eye-opening if rather gut-wrenching’ experience,” said Pearlman. “Nonetheless, all this is done with a sensitivity that strikes the delicate balance between allowing freedom, providing direction and offering constructive encouragement.”

Turning his attention to Weiss, Pearlman said the Schulich professor brings to his teaching “a unique passion demonstrated by remarkable dedication, extra effort and sustained excellence in the classroom”.

Pearlman described Weiss as “one of the finest and most respected teachers at Schulich, consistently receiving above-average evaluative ratings of more than 6 on a 7 point scale. Students selected him to receive the Schulich Teaching Award in 2000. They were consistent in their praise that he is a teacher who stands out from all the others and who leaves a lasting impression.

Right: Dean Ron Pearlman with Professor Stephen Weiss

“A constant theme from all who commented on Prof.  Weiss’ worthiness for this award, is the infectious passion and enthusiasim for his subject matter that he imparts within the classroom,” said Pearlman. “They comment on his ability to use relevant current affairs within business issues to make his courses come alive, and to construct a positive interactive environment that is most conducive to learning. He is always well prepared, professional and dynamic in his teaching style.”

Pearlman described Weiss as extremely approachable and generous with his time. “He sets the bar high for himself and, by providing individual attention and fair support, he pushes his students outside of their comfort zone and in return gets the best from them,” said Pearlman.

Both professors, he said, represent exemplary role models for both graduate students and the faculty, and personify the qualities that the award is meant to acknowledge and celebrate.