Four to receive teaching awards at Convocation


This year’s recipients of the annual President’s University-Wide Teaching Awards (UWTA) demonstrate an ability to embrace a variety of tools, including the Internet and blogs, to enhance their teaching and heighten the engagement of students.

The UWTAs honour those individuals who, through innovation and commitment, have significantly enhanced the quality of learning for York students. The recipients are 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 – and are selected by the Senate Committee on Awards.

They will each receive $3,000, and will have their names engraved on the President’s University-Wide Teaching Awards plaques in Vari Hall. They will also be recognized during Spring Convocation ceremonies.

“Teaching excellence is the foundation of York’s reputation as a top Canadian university,” said York President & Vice-Chancellor Mamdouh Shoukri. “This year’s four recipients are outstanding individuals who are to be commended for their commitment and dedication to students.”

Three of this year’s UWTA winners hail from the Faculty of Health, while the fourth comes from the Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies.

Robert MullerIn the category of Senior Full-time Faculty, Professor Robert Muller, Department of Psychology in the Faculty of Health, will be awarded for his innovative work in new technologies, particularly the online academic blog, Trauma and Attachment Report,involving undergraduate students. The awards committee noted that the dissemination of Muller’s work took place not only through graduate supervision, but also training sessions and workshops in the field, which demonstrated stellar integration of his teaching and research.

As psychology Professor Adrienne Perry of the Clinical-Developmental Graduate Program in the Department of Psychology wrote in her nomination letter, “Dr. Muller supervises his graduate students in such a multifaceted way so as to help them develop the research, clinical, collaboration and supervisory skills necessary to become independent scientist-practitioners themselves.”

In addition, Perry wrote that, “Dr. Muller has also plunged into the realm of new technologies and used them in amazingly creative ways to enhance students’ experiences, while conducting exemplary knowledge mobilization at the same time.”

The Trauma and Attachment Report is produced, written and coordinated entirely by some 16 undergraduate students in Muller’s lab, under his close supervision. “The use of an academic mental-health blog has allowed for an approach to learning where students feel a strong connection to the writing process,” said Muller. “They know their work will be widely read and disseminated, so they become motivated to write interesting, meaningful articles.”

A new article is published every week, which gives the students a sense of responsibility and commitment to their readership. “We hold regular weekly writers’ meetings where we brainstorm as a team, and where students help each other as they develop topic ideas,” said Muller, who heads the Trauma & Attachment Lab. “In addition, I give them ongoing feedback on their particular piece until their work is of publishable quality.” Muller, author of the award-winning book, Trauma and the Avoidant Client: Attachment-Based Strategies for Healing, will receive the President’s UWTA Friday, June 8 at 10:30am.

Patricia BradleyIn the Full-time Faculty category, Patricia Bradley of the School of Nursing in the Faculty of Health will receive the award for her demonstrated leadership and innovation in teaching, particularly in her work with the Internationally Educated Nurses Program and workshops for students.

“Pat’s creativity and imagination engages students in learning through a wide variety of teaching strategies, such as case studies, gaming, discussion groups or innovative use of technology,” said nursing Professor Adeline Falk-Rafael in her nomination letter.

“Pat is always prepared, deliberately choosing teaching strategies to fit the learning objectives, the teaching-learning space and the learners’ needs,” wrote Falk-Rafael. “Not only does she ensure that content is current, based on current literature and best practices, she utilizes current educational literature to constantly evolve her teaching and through her research contributes knowledge to teaching/learning. Consistently high teaching scores further attest to Pat’s teaching effectiveness.”

As Bradley said, “As a nurse educator, I believe that being passionate about teaching and about the profession of nursing is vital. I view nursing education as a process that assists students to develop and apply nursing knowledge, skills and judgment, while at the same time developing personal integrity and the commitment required to nurse in today’s complex health-care environments. With this obligation in mind, I aspire to teaching excellence.”

Her goal, she said, is to support the development of students’ highest potentials, encouraging them to exceed their own expectations, fostering success, personal growth, mutual respect, commitment, self-direction and creativity. Bradley will receive her President’s UWTA Friday, June 8 at 3:30pm.

Jon SufrinFor the category of Contract & Adjunct Faculty, Professor Jon Sufrin of the Department of Humanities in the Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies and Canadian Studies Program coordinator will be awarded for his innovative and diverse teaching strategies, his mentoring of graduate students and the never-ending opportunities he provides for their involvement in research projects. Sufrin not only teaches students, but promotes effective teaching and learning practices through workshops, inspiring TAs and Faculty colleagues.

“Sufrin is one of those individuals who has touched the lives of undergraduate students and faculty members and has transformed them by his dedication, passion and belief that teaching is one of the central pillars of a university,” wrote Professor Marcel Martel, holder of the Avie Bennett Historica-Dominion Institute Chair in Canadian History, in his nomination letter.

When he observed his teaching, Martel wrote that he “was struck by his ability to inspire students and to transform a topic into the most valuable issue for students to know and remember. His lectures are always well organized, amazingly interesting and engaging. His use of media and a variety of primary sources takes learning to a whole new level.”

Sufrin believes learning develops from two things – interest and understanding. “Stimulating interest leads to questions and to inquiry. Understanding helps one to see patterns in seemingly unrelated ideas, to conceptualize the world differently, and, by doing so, to grow as a human being,” he said. “I often think about learning in terms of Plato’s Cave metaphor – that learning leads us from a dark world where we see only shadows and understand only our own limited perspectives, and into a bright, open space where a wide world we never knew about is illuminated and our lives enriched.” Sufrin will receive his President’s UWTA on Tuesday, June 12 at 10:30am.

Jeremy BurmanJeremy Burman of York’s Department of Psychology in the Faculty of Health will be awarded the UWTA in the Teaching Assistant category.  He has inspired students to greater levels of learning and they have appreciated his mentorship in developing successful strategies applicable to all their courses.

“Jeremy has been working with me for the past four years as the TA for my course in Developmental Psychology. He has worked tirelessly on all aspects of the course and has put so much effort into this that his student assessments are the most incredible I have ever seen,” said Distinguished Research Professor of Philosophy & Psychology Stuart Shanker.

“I want to give the students what they need to reinvent the lesson in their own minds, while encouraging them to continue their explorations outside of the classroom. In other words, my purpose is not to upload content and fill empty vessels, but to ‘chaperone discovery’,” said Burman, who was named an international emerging scholar by the Jacobs Foundation and the Jean Piaget Society in 2010.

“The notion of chaperoned discovery recognizes that ‘understanding’ requires a reconstruction by the learner, rather than a copying of information. This means going beyond memorization. Instead, it is closer to what mathematicians do in encouraging derivation. If the learner understands why something must be a certain way (if they recognize that thing’s necessities), then they can anticipate not only what is (today’s facts) but also what is possible (tomorrow’s studies).”

The Development of Psychology course “now includes online quizzes, wikis and discussion forums, ways of extending the learning experience beyond the lecture and out of the textbook,” he said. Burman will receive the President’s UWTA Friday, June 8 at 10:30am.

For more information, visit the President’s UWTA web page.