Five faculty honoured with teaching awards during Spring Convocation

Convocation stage

The five recipients of the President’s University-Wide Teaching Awards (PUWTA) exemplify excellence in teaching. Adjectives such as enthusiastic, supportive, inclusive, tireless, passionate and versatile are just some of the words used to describe this year’s talented faculty.

Chosen out of four categories – senior full-time, full time, contract & adjunct, and teaching assistant – and selected by the Senate Awards Committee, the recipients will have their names engraved on the PUWTA plaques in Vari Hall. They were recognized during York University’s 2014 Spring Convocation ceremonies June 13 to 21.

“This year, it was particularly gratifying to see the excitement of our graduating students as these University leaders were recognized during convocation,” said York University President and Vice-Chancellor Mamdouh Shoukri. “The recipients of these awards are individuals who, through innovation and commitment, have significantly enhanced the quality of student learning at York. These accomplished teachers are a real asset for the University, and we were delighted to pay tribute to their outstanding contributions this year.”

teaching award recipient
Norma Sue Fisher-Stitt

York dance Professor Norma Sue Fisher-Stitt was recognized during convocation ceremonies for the Faculty of Graduate Studies, the Faculty of Fine Arts and the Faculty of Liberal Arts and Professional Studies on Friday, June 13. Fisher-Stitt is the recipient of the PUWTA in the full-time senior faculty category. She is the past associate vice-president of learning initiatives and director of the Atkinson Centre for Mature and Part-Time Students. She was the associate dean of student affairs for the Faculty of Graduate Studies and held numerous high profile roles in the Faculty of Fine Arts. She is the author of The Ballet Class: A History of Canada’s National Ballet School 1959-2009 (2010). She has taught numerous courses in dance education, dance history, choreographic history and teaching dance at the undergraduate and graduate levels.

One of her nominators, Lindsay Morris, a first-year master’s dance studies student, said that Fisher-Stitt “creates a safe and open space for learning and questioning, which is no easy feat with a classroom of students of all ages and backgrounds with varying levels of proficiency in the discipline.” In his letter of support, colleague Professor Patrick Alcedo described Fisher-Stitt as a “galvanizing force in the Department of Dance and embodies what inspired and inspiring teaching is.”

“My approach to teaching has been highly influenced by my own experiences as a dance student in a ballet conservatory,” said Fisher-Stitt in her teaching statement. “In that setting, at that time, students neither spoke nor asked questions. The authoritarian environment adhered to what [Paulo] Freire describes as the ‘banking model,’ where the teachers are the holders and purveyors of knowledge while the students are the silent receptacles. My own approach to teaching is based on rejection of this model. When I teach, I openly acknowledge that I am a learner as well as a teacher. Concurrently, I believe that the students in the class are teachers as well as learners. I encourage my students to develop their voices and I consciously work to create an atmosphere in which they feel safe to express and debate their opinions and questions.”

Tamara Kelly
Tamara Kelly

York biology Professor Tamara Kelly was recognized during convocation ceremonies for the Faculty of Science and the Lassonde School of Engineering on Friday, June 13. Kelly is the recipient of the PUWTA in the full-time faculty category. She is a professor in the Department of Biology in the Faculty of Science. She is the recipient of the 2013 Faculty of Science Excellence in Teaching Award (Senior Tenure Stream), the 2012 Faculty of Science Merit Award, the 2011 Faculty of Science & Engineering Excellence in Teaching Award (Junior Tenure Stream) and the 2007 Dean’s commendation for excellent teaching evaluations for the 2006-07 academic year.

Kelly’s nomination received overwhelming support from her colleagues and students. Thirty-four students wrote in a group letter that Kelly uses a wide spectrum of evaluation methods and provides students with not only the knowledge to succeed at the assigned tasks but also to help her students develop the confidence to apply these skills in other courses and in their personal lives. “Through constant encouragement and guidance, she helped us master two daunting tasks: scientific writing and class presentation. She is the most approachable instructor we’ve ever had; her openness, wit, encouragement and her respect of students as budding scientists puts us at ease when speaking with her. On numerous occasions she has held sessions on effective study habits and many of us have sought her advice regarding our future academic and professional endeavours.”

“Dr. Kelly is an expert in cutting edge pedagogical tools for teaching and assessment. She has the courage to try new things if there is evidence that it will improve student learning. Her motivation is not higher scores in her course evaluations, but improved student learning,” said her colleague Professor Paula Wilson.

“In my teaching, I help students realize that biology is about asking questions, gathering evidence and applying concepts, not memorizing facts,” said Kelly in her teaching statement. “In all my classes, I use examples to demonstrate that our understanding of biology changes with new findings, and stress the iterative nature of science is what makes it so exciting. I want all students to see that biology is dynamic, exciting and relevant to their daily lives, while preparing them to be good science citizens.”

teaching award recipient
Isha DeCoito

Isha DeCoito, a contract faculty member in the Faculty of Education, has been teaching at York University since 2008. She is the recipient of the PUWTA in the contract and adjunct faculty category. DeCoito was recognized during convocation ceremonies for the Faculty of Environmental Studies and the Faculty of Education on June 19.

DeCoito is a course director in the Faculty of Education’s Science Education stream. She was a member of the Academic Innovation Fund’s Borderless Education for Refugees Project and has served on the York Community Safety Council. DeCoito was nominated by alumna Sophia Ignatius (BEd ’13). “As her student, I was a part of an inclusive community that provided many learning opportunities and support for intellectual growth. Professor DeCoito uses a variety of pedagogical strategies that not only enhance student learning, but also serve as a model for future teachers.”

“In designing her courses, Dr. DeCoito generally begins with a commitment to address the subject matter from an equity and diversity framework,” wrote Don Dippo, University Professor, Faculty of Education, in his letter of support. “She takes a critical approach to curriculum and pedagogy, making sure that course content connects to community and global issues students care about.”

“To meet the needs of all, I employ teaching and learning approaches that empower students into becoming fully engaged, autonomous, lifelong learners,” said DeCoito in her statement of teaching. “I view my role as a facilitator of learning by encouraging independent thinking and promoting teaching and learning approaches that take into account a constructivist framework, with a goal of fostering critical thinking, facilitating lifelong learning skills and developing problem solving strategies; thus focusing on the development of 21st-century skills, a goal of education worldwide.”

Yael Machtinger
Yael Machtinger

York University teaching assistants Yael Machtinger and Rehanna Siew-Sarju received the PUWTA award in the Teaching Assistant (TA) category. Both are graduate students in the Faculty of Liberal Arts and Professional Studies. Machtinger and Siew-Sarju were honoured during convocation ceremonies for the Faculty of Liberal Arts and Professional Studies (LAPS) on June 18.

Machtinger (BA Spec. Hons. ’08, MA ’09) is a doctoral candidate in socio-legal studies in the Department of Social Science, LAPS. She has been teaching since 2008 and has taught courses in the first- and second-year Law and Society Program.

Machtinger’s teaching philosophy focuses on the tutorial as a “safe place of learning where we grow not only to be better students, but citizens of the world.

“My goal becomes fostering independent, critical and creative thinking through active learning exercises,” said Machtinger in her teaching statement. “Interdisciplinary students bring fresh, unexamined perspectives to analyses in tutorial, and by offering students multiple ways of thinking through the relationship between law and society, this interdisciplinary approach goes hand in hand with the program’s goals of questioning normative limits of law as well students’ own pre-existing opinion. Thus my tutorial is centred on a methodology that helps students ‘un-think’ and then ‘re-think.’ ”

“Yael employs a ‘whole person’ approach to learning,” said Professor Kimberley White, chair of the Department of Social Science, in her letter of support for Machtinger’s nomination. “Yael works hard as a TA and puts her mind to creating a safe and challenging learning environment for her students. In doing so, her colleagues and students recognize and appreciate that she is heavily invested in developing and nurturing engaged citizens, as well as engaged students.”

Rehanna Siew Sarju
Rehanna Siew-Sarju

Siew-Sarju (BA Spec. Hons. ’06, MA ’08) is a doctoral candidate in the Sociology Program in LAPS. She has been teaching since 2012 and has worked as a Teaching Commons tutor contributing to the development and delivery of programs in support of teaching assistants at the University. She has taught second- and third-year courses in the Sociology Program.

Siew-Sarju’s teaching philosophy is centred on helping students develop a high level of critical and analytical skills in order to understand social issues. “I believe a great educator must be committed, passionate and willing to adapt to new and different classroom dynamics,” said Siew-Sarju in her teaching philosophy statement. “I believe higher education must prepare students for the realities of our society. In specific, higher education must equip students for the world of work but more importantly provide them with the skills and knowledge to be engaged citizens who are committed to their communities.”

“Her ability to explain complex theoretical concepts and ideas by using practical and relevant examples marks her outstanding teaching ability,” said Professor Guida Man in a letter of support for Siew-Sarju. “She is a dedicated, enthusiastic and engaged educator focused on developing critical thinking, reading and writing skills amongst her students through a variety of methods.”

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. The awards demonstrate the value York University attaches to teaching.