Two York faculty among the top 20 vying for TVO’s Best Lecturer

Two York faculty members are among the top 20 vying for the coveted title of TVO’s best lecturer. Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies lecturers Karolyn Smardz Frost and Nadia Habib made the cut and now move on to the next round, which will yield the final 10 competitors.

TVO narrowed the field from more than 300 nominees to 20 contenders in the 2010 Big Ideas Best Lecturer Competition. Sponsored by TD Insurance Meloche Monnex, the winner not only receives much deserved recognition and bragging rights, but also a $10,000 TD Insurance Meloche Monnex scholarship for their school.

This year, York University is among 13 schools represented in the top 20. Smardz-Frost and Habib will compete against lecturers from a wide range of faculties and disciplines, including mathematics, religion, psychology, education, justice, English, politics, film, biology, business, physics and economics.

"The challenge of all good teachers is to make students understand. The best of them have the additional ability to make their students feel that the new knowledge matters beyond the classroom and the next examination. This can be said of all the 20 professors who are this year’s semifinalists," says Wodek Szemberg, producer of the best lecturer competition.

Smardz Frost is the research associate for the new York Centre for Education & Community and a Fellow of the Harriet Tubman Institute for Research on the Global Migrations of African Peoples. She was associated for several years with the Atkinson School of Arts & Letters, now part of the Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies, where she taught students primary research methods for the history of Toronto, and for African-Canadian history. The winner of this year’s Teaching Development Grant, she is now writing a fourth-year history course to introduce students to the collections of the Archives of Ontario and other local respositories, so they can discover for themselves new narratives highlighting the rich heritage of African Canadians in Ontario. 

Left: Karolyn Smardz Frost

Her current research is for a book titled Steal Away Home: Letters to a Fugitive Slave. "It is the biography of two women, one a refugee from bondage living in Toronto and the other the Kentucky slaveowner from whom she fled," says Smardz Frost. "They corresponded for more than 20 years, and the book will be coming out from HarperCollins in 2011. I am also co-editing with Dr. Veta Tucker of Grand Valley State University, Michigan, a new volume, A Fluid Frontier, about African-American/African-Canadian transnationalism along the Detroit River in the era of the Underground Railroad."

In 2007, Smardz Frost received the Governor General’s Literary Award in the non-fiction category for her book I’ve Got a Home in Glory Land: A Lost Tale of the Underground Railroad. Click here to view a video of Smardz Frost talking about her work.

Habib teaches human rights & equity studies and sociology at York University. She is also a teaching assistant for a foundation course in humanities. Her own research focuses on Egyptian cultural life. Her PhD dissertation (which she hopes to finish in the not-too-distant future), examines the role and impact of Umm Kulthum, Egypt’s most enduring cultural icon on Egypt’s struggles with the challenges of modernity. Her work is grounded in psychoanalysis and philosophy, particularly Jacques Derrida’s reading of Sigmund Freud’s analysis of resistance.

Right: Nadia Habib

Before returning to academia, she worked in theatre: performing, directing and producing live theatre in both English and French in different parts of Canada, including Montreal, Toronto and Edmonton. Habib is also a poet and activist, and was the recipient of a Toronto Arts Council grant for poetry. She continues to be involved in creative projects, and wrote and participated in the narration of "A Hot Sand Filled Wind", the third instalment of b.h. Yael’s film, Palestine Trilogy: Documentations in History, Land and Hope.

Last year, Habib collaborated with Maryem Tollar, a Toronto world music performer, to develop a narrative around issues of displacement and belonging to accompany the Maryem Tollar Group’s release of their CD Cairo to Toronto. Together, Toller and Habib are preparing a new work, Journey from Alif to Zed, for the 2010 Luminato Festival.

Viewers across the province can watch the top 10 lectures on “Big Ideas” beginning Saturday, March 6, 2010. At that time, viewers and a panel of judges will vote for an overall winner. This year, TD Insurance Meloche Monnex is sponsoring a new prize for viewers who go to the TVO Best Lecturers Web site to cast their vote online. Participants will be entered to win a digital prize pack: a laptop, HD camcorder, digital SLR still camera, an iPod touch and an iTunes gift card.

The voting period closes on Sunday, April 11, 2010. The winner will be announced on Saturday, April 17.

For more information, including video clips of lectures given by Smardz Frost and Habib, along with student testimonials and full contest details, visit the TVO Best Lecturers Web site.