York’s Faculty of Fine Arts celebrates two of its own

Two faculty members in York’s Faculty of Fine Arts were recognized for excellence in teaching with the presentation of the Dean’s Teaching Awards at a reception on Wednesday, Sept. 23.

Visual arts Professor Judith Schwarz and dance Professor Danielle Robinson were presented with a plaque and applauded for their innovation and commitment to teaching, and their dedication to enhancing the quality of the learning experience for fine arts students.

“It is a great pleasure to present these teaching awards to such deserving individuals,” said fine arts Dean Barbara Sellers-Young. “Judith’s long history of teaching excellence and leadership in the development of studio curriculum, and Danielle’s outstanding mentorship and engagement in dance theory, both in and out of the classroom, richly deserve this public acknowledgement.”

Above: From left, visual arts Professor Judith Schwarz, Faculty of Fine Arts Dean Barbara Sellers-Young and dance Professor Danielle Robinson

Schwarz, an acclaimed sculptor who was recently appointed Chair of the Department of Visual Arts, received the Faculty of Fine Arts Dean’s Senior Teaching Award, which recognizes tenured professors.

“I remember a student saying to me after a class critique: ‘Thank you. You really love drawing!’,” said Schwarz. “Sometimes we forget that the most interesting thing about ourselves, our teaching, is what we love most: in my case any aspect of the creative process.

“It’s a great privilege be part of this community, which insists on the integration of research and education. To receive the Dean’s Teaching Award in this context – an engaged milieu of students, staff and faculty – is a remarkable honour,” Schwarz said. “I thank my hard-working and inspiring colleagues in visual arts, the Faculty of Fine Arts and the Centre for the Support of Teaching. And I give a heartfelt thank you to the many wonderful, diverse and challenging students I’ve had the opportunity to work with over the last two decades.”

Her colleagues offered glowing praise in nominating her for the award. They lauded Schwarz as “an exemplary model teacher and colleague in my own first years at York” and “rigorous and demanding, while maintaining great enthusiasm for her students.” Nominators noted “the combined respect and affection in which her students hold her” and “a concern for subtle detail that is a mark of her professionalism.”

Schwarz’s students likewise enthused about her style in the classroom. They cited her contagious enthusiasm and how she inspired confidence, and described her teaching as astoundingly comprehensive, dynamic, challenging and engaging.

One student was particularly impressed with Schwarz’s ability to learn the names of virtually all of the several hundred students in her lectures – “even of those who may have been trying to remain anonymous.”

Robinson, a dance scholar who joined the Faculty of Fine Arts in 2005, received the Dean’s Junior Teaching Award.

“I owe this award to my students and I want to thank them for their trust, curiosity, hard work and openness to new ideas,” said Robinson. “They have taught me as much as I have taught them. Nothing compares to the energy in the classroom and the immediate reward you feel when you know the students are wrapping their minds around an exciting new idea.

“I am grateful to the Department of Dance for giving me the room to grow and experiment in the classroom, and to Ros Woodhouse, academic director of the Centre for the Support of Teaching, who has steadfastly encouraged my non-traditional strategies and graciously offered me pedagogical emergency ‘roadside assistance’ on more than one occasion.” 

In nominating Robinson for the award, her colleagues praised her significant contribution to interdisciplinary teaching and learning in the Faculty of Fine Arts: “…at every level of engagement, she presents herself as a model of the interdisciplinary teacher/scholar.” They described her as dedicated, confident, masterful and engaging, and noted her “passion for thinking about meta-critical issues in dance studies training” and the time and effort she put into mentoring students.

Robinson’s student nominators echoed these sentiments. They described her teaching as provocative and inspiring, hugely influential, enlightening and enriching. One student enthused: “Professor Robinson made an indelible mark on my academic career.” Others said: “She goes above and beyond as a mentor,” is “selfless with her time and energy” and “she armed me with critical insight and unwavering work ethic.”

The Faculty of Fine Arts Dean’s Teaching Awards were established to recognize excellence in teaching by full-time faculty members in the Faculty of Fine Arts. Anyone can initiate a nomination, including a student, peer or department Chair. Members of the Fine Arts Research Grants & Awards Committee adjudicate the submissions, taking into consideration class polls, supervision, new teaching initiatives undertaken, new courses taught, research related to teaching and curriculum development, and contributions to life and vibrancy in the Faculty of Fine Arts.

In addition to the recognition awarded through their personal plaque, Schwarz’s and Robinson’s names will be engraved on a Faculty plaque mounted permanently at the north entrance to the Centre for Film & Theatre, recording their outstanding achievement – and that of previous award-winners –  for public recognition.