President’s teaching awards celebrate excellence

Profoundly inspiring, innovative, passionate and enthusiastic are some of the words used to describe the recipients of the annual President’s University-Wide Teaching Awards (UWTA).

Chosen from four categories – full-time faculty with 10 or more years of teaching experience, full-time faculty with less than 10 years of experience, contract & adjunct faculty and teaching assistants – recipients of the awards are selected by the Senate Committee on Awards, receive $3,000, have their names engraved on the President’s University-Wide Teaching Award plaques in Vari Hall and are recognized at this spring’s convocation ceremonies.

“These awards demonstrate the value York University attaches to teaching and recognizes those who, through innovation and commitment, have significantly enhanced the quality of learning by York students,” said York President & Vice-Chancellor Mamdouh Shoukri.

Osgoode Hall Law School Professor Shin Imai (right), academic director of the law school’s Intensive Program in Poverty Law at Parkdale Community Legal Services and co-director of the Latin American Human Rights Research & Education Network, is the recipient of the UWTA in the senior full time category for faculty with 10 or more years of teaching experience. Imai has also served as the academic director of the Intensive Program in Aboriginal Lands, Resources & Governments and as director of the Clinical Education Program for the law school.

Imai’s research interests are focused on aboriginal law in Canada, indigenous rights in Latin America, alternative dispute resolution and clinical legal education. In 2007, Imai received Osgoode’s Excellence in Teaching Award.

His nominator, Osgoode Hall Law School Professor Lisa Philipps, associate dean of research of graduate studies & institutional relations, says: "Shin is renowned as one of the most talented and admired teachers in the Osgoode community, and one who has contributed at a very high level to the development of both experiential learning and critical pedagogy in the law school. He has inspired not only his students but also many of his colleagues, and has played an important role in strengthening the faculty’s reputation for innovation and leadership in legal education, both in Canada and internationally.”

Professor Radu Guiasu (left) teaches environmental & health studies and is the coordinator of the Department of Multidisciplinary Studies at Glendon College. Guiasu is the recipient of the UWTA in the full-time category for faculty with less than 10 years of teaching experience. Guiasu was also the recipient of the 2009 Glendon Principal’s Teaching Excellence Award.

His research interests include ecology, animal behaviour, conservation biology and evolutionary biology in the field, the laboratory, and museum collections, including those housed at the Royal Ontario Museum. Guiasu has published 25 scientific articles, of which he is listed as the lead author on 23, and one book, Entropy in Ecology and Ethology (Nova Science Publishers Inc., 2003), which he co-authored with his father, York Professor Emeritus Silviu Guiasu, a faculty member in the Department of Mathematics & Statistics at the Keele campus.

Guiasu was nominated for the UWTA by a group of his students. Omid Fekri, a fourth-year bachelor of arts student who will be graduating this spring, organized the nomination of Guiasu. In their letters, each of his nominators praised Guiasu’s ability to make complicated scientific concepts interesting and understandable. Many of the courses Guiasu teaches are for non-science majors. In his letter of nomination, Fekri says: “Professor Guiasu puts a lot of devotion and effort into his teaching, and into the preparation of his course material. He creates an open, welcoming environment that encourages students to utilize a wide variety of learning styles and strategies, and promotes a free exchange of ideas among all his students. I cannot overemphasize his positive influence in my academic performance. I can honestly say that the work ethic that he displays inspires me to strive for similar results.”

Steve Sanguedolce (left), a contract faculty member in York’s Faculty of Fine Arts, teaches sound design and the technical aspects of fimmaking to students in the Department of Film and is the recipient of the President’s UWTA in the contract faculty category. He is described by his colleagues as one of the most important hybrid filmmakers working in independent film in Canada. Sanguedolce’s award-winning films Mexico (1992), Away (1996), Smack (2000) and Dead time (2005) have earned numerous awards at independent film festivals in Canada and abroad.

Using experimental techniques, Sanguedolce combines non-linear visual storytelling with self-created soundtracks that weave character dialogue threads into oceanic soundscapes to create powerful films. Sanguedolce’s technical prowess, curiosity and enthusiasm for both the craft of filmmaking and teaching are the key attributes according to his nominator, York women’s studies Professor Frances Latchford.

“I have known of Steve’s award-winning work and international reputation for many years. In 2005, I became aware that he is also a profoundly inspiring teacher. This was not because I had then seen him teach.… It is because, more than once, there has been a student in my Critical Sexualities course who has raved, bright-eyed, about Steve as his or her favourite teacher,” says Latchford. “I decided to check Steve’s teaching out. The lecture I attended was “Dynamics and Mixing in Sound Design”. His lecture examined how and why sound, control of it, can enhance or undermine the emotional and psychological impact of film imagery on the audience.

“Steve demonstrated a terrific ease and facility with the classroom technology. He moved seamlessly between lecturing and technological demonstrations of sound in film, which added to the high quality and clarity of his lecture…. He left me truly inspired about the possibility of making meaning in the world, a strange and beautiful feeling that only the best teachers evoke in their students,” says Latchford.

Itamar Tzadok (left), a doctoral candidate in the Department of Philosophy in York’s Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies, is the winner of the UWTA in the teaching assistant category. He has been teaching since 2005 and has taught courses in philosophy, technological epistemology and humanities.

In his teaching philosophy statement Tzadok says he tries to create a learning space where every participant can make a contribution. He regularly develops and contributes to the learning space short self-test activities that all participants can use to reflect on the course material. Creating such an environment requires a command of teaching principles and current learning platforms and Tzadok uses this learning space to further connect with his students to help them better understand the concepts and material.  

“Itamar has excelled as a teaching assistant from the moment he joined our program five years ago. He never stops thinking about how to improve the learning experience of our students and literally overflows with innovative ideas. But it’s the work he’s done for [the course] Philosophy 2100, Introduction to Logic, which really stands out,” says his nominator, Professor Robert Myers, chair of the Department of Philosophy.

“This began in fall 2007 as a collaborative effort with [philosophy] Professor Henry Jackman, who wanted to develop a ‘hybrid’ version of the course. Itamar, working as his teaching assistant, offered to develop a program that would allow students, using the Moodle site, to submit their homework assignments online and have their answers marked automatically, thereby freeing up time for the teaching assistants to devote special attention to those who were finding logic difficult. Itamar kept on improving the program, eventually finding a way for it not just to mark assignments automatically but also to generate them automatically, so that students could keep on testing themselves until they were happy with their results. The effects have been nothing short of fantastic,” says Myers.

The purpose of the President’s University-Wide Teaching Awards is to provide significant recognition for excellence in teaching, to encourage its pursuit, to publicize such excellence when achieved across the University and in the wider community, and to promote informed discussion of teaching and its improvement.