Five York teachers have been singled out this year for University-Wide Teaching Awards, with glowing reports from students and colleagues that make you want to rush out and sign up for the recipients’ courses.
They are Pablo Bose, Sue Coffey, Mark Davidson, Paul Delaney and Anne MacLennan. Each will be honoured during Spring Convocation by his or her respective Faculty. They will receive plaques and citations, as well as have their names added to a plaque in Vari Hall.
Faculty of Environmental Studies Ceremony, June 14
Though he had been a teaching assistant while finishing an MA in communication studies at Simon Fraser University, BC, Pablo Bose (right) really poured his heart into honing his classroom skills and sharing them with peers when he started his doctoral studies in environmental studies at York six years ago. Students consistently give the popular teaching assistant and course director glowing year-end evaluations for courses, especially for 4000-level Environment, Culture, Media and Communication, an interdisciplinary course he designed. It is the most innovative, highly-ranked course in the Faculty, according to nominators and fellow doctoral candidates Traci Warkentin and Stephanie Rutherford. In it, Bose challenges students to analyze mainstream and alternative forms of media from different perspectives.
As one student says: “Pablo’s creativity and passion was contagious. He really connects to his students and earns our respect through his knowledge and ability to foster group discussions. He is REAL and honest, insightful.” Just as devoted to sharing his skills with peers, Bose plays an active role at the Centre for the Support of Teaching — while coordinating a five-year research project for the Centre for Refugee Studies and finishing a thesis on Calcutta urban housing projects. He is not only an exceedingly competent instructor and facilitator, say his nominators, he is an “extraordinarily caring and dedicated” mentor and friend who goes out of his way to help, as he did recently by staging a mock interview to rehearse a student shortlisted for a Rhodes Scholarship.
Atkinson Faculty of Liberal & Professional Studies Ceremony II, June 15
Since she graduated from George Brown College in 1989, Sue Coffey (right) has always worked as a nurse. Until recently, even as an assistant professor in York’s School of Nursing, she continued to work shifts in North York General Hospital’s emergency department, a fact that underscores her passion for nursing and informs her research on the nursing experience and evidence-based practice. Coffey has always worked and studied, accumulating in quick succession a BSc in neurosciences, a bachelor, a master’s and a doctoral degree in nursing science. Five years ago, she began lecturing in York’s School of Nursing and despite a lack of classroom experience scored a perfect 5/5 on teaching evaluations, a harbinger of scores to come. “From the first course she taught,” wrote her nominator and fellow nursing Professor Adeline Falk-Rafael, “she had a clear vision of her role as a teacher – one who brings expertise but at the same time values students’ diverse perspectives and lived experiences and respects their uniqueness.”
Committed to “graduating safe and competent practitioners,” Coffey has taken the concept of “safe passage” in patient care and applied it to teaching. She believes that students desire to be the best they can be, and from year one at York, she has helped them fulfill that desire. She developed a course to ease the transition to a university setting of nursing students who started their bachelor of nursing science program at a college, and helped win funding for student learning labs and clinical simulation equipment. She designed and launched a provincially funded — and widely lauded — program to enable internationally educated nurses to earn Ontario credentials. According to her nominator, students in the program say Coffey “has given them hope, they had all but lost, that they would be able to once again practise as registered nurses.” One comment sums up their feelings: “She stands out like an angel.”
Mark A. Davidson
Faculty of Arts Ceremony II, June 13
“Students come first,” is what Law and Society Program course director Mark Davidson (left) tells his teaching assistants at the beginning of the year, and then shows how to put them there. Friendly and approachable, fair but firm, and always flexible, the London-trained actor with an LLB from Osgoode and a PhD in law from the University of Cardiff, UK, uses drama to present and demystify complex issues. “Interaction plays a key role in how Mark approaches his lectures,” writes nominator Muharem Kianieff, a teaching assistant in the Division of Social Science. For instance, Davidson writes dialogues, in the tradition of Plato, to probe theories, then asks teaching assistants to perform them. Students say this makes ideas come alive, says Kianieff. Davidson also devises exercises to drive home a point. In one, he asks a production line of “employed” students to copy a simple sketch he draws on the blackboard, then fires those who don’t do it perfectly and replaces them with “unemployed” students, to show the impersonal nature of work in modern society.
“Mark is constantly striving to involve students and to generate a reaction when controversial ideas are presented,” writes his nominator. Why the non-traditional teaching methods? Davidson would argue that if universities are meant to promote democratic citizenship and if you teach radical social theory in a traditional lecture format, you end up replicating the very power structures you are critiquing. Inside and outside the classroom, Davidson also pays particular attention to diversity and the plight of minorities and the disadvantaged. He wrote the script for Ode to Learning, a York-produced film about a university student with a mental illness, and takes great pains to try to identify with and help students struggling with personal adversity. Davidson also devotes much attention to mentoring his teaching assistants. “One thing really stands out,” says Kianieff. “Mark clearly loves what he does and he will always go the extra mile.”
Faculty of Science and Engineering Ceremony, June 14
Paul Delaney (right) demonstrated his teaching talent for all the province to see when TVO named him one of the top 10 lecturers in Ontario and aired one of his class presentations. Away from the TV cameras, though, the Australian-born astronomer is a “star” in many other galaxies. “His contribution to learning has extended well beyond the classroom,” say his nominators, student Gail Geronimo and Paula Wilson, assistant dean of the Faculty of Science & Engineering. During his 20 years at York, the senior lecturer in physics and astronomy has shared his contagious passion for the night sky and space exploration with “people of all ages in all walks of life and all levels of science background, from the general public to high school students to university students to colleagues.”
Science and non-science students alike respond positively to his enthusiasm, his humour, his challenge to think outside the box and his attempts to connect science to everyday life. They annually give him top marks for his creative approaches — the “one-minute paper” and “bus-stop scenario” — to improving their verbal communication skills and teaching them to think on their feet. He championed the introduction of a science and technology program, a major innovation in the Faculty, and promoted a more student-centred approach to natural science courses. But above all, the director of the Division of Natural Science, director of the campus observatory and former master of Bethune College is known for his “accessibility to students and willingness to mentor, advise, debate and teach outside the classroom,” say his nominators. “He is fully committed to being as available to his students as possible, which, given his enormous administrative load, is almost heroic in proportion.”
Faculty of Arts Ceremony I, June 12
In the three years that Anne MacLennan (left) has been teaching communication studies at York, she has impressed colleagues, inspired students and mentored both. A historian educated at McGill and Concordia universities, she has been teaching for 19 years at colleges and universities in Quebec, and more recently in Ontario. MacLennan is “one of those rare teachers who simultaneously inspires and challenges her students to strive beyond their known abilities,” writes MacLennan’s nominator John Dwyer, a fellow professor in the Division of Social Science. Undergraduate and graduate students share “a palpable sense of empowerment that Anne manages to instill in those who have come under her pedagogical power,” writes Dwyer.
The radio broadcasting historian fosters independent and original thinking and stimulates students by constantly “raising the academic bar and bringing much needed scholarly energy and discipline back into their lives,” writes an undergraduate student. She is known for a collaborative approach to learning that “places the student at the centre of the learning experience.” Her accessibility in person and online is legendary and students past and present turn to her as a mentor for both academic and personal advice. Considered by colleagues to be a “pioneer” in teaching and learning technology, she also generously shares her expertise and techniques with peers.