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Deans' Teaching Awards: 2007 recipients

James Cunningham
Faculty of Arts

It is my privilege to announce that the recipient of the 2007 Ryerson Teaching Excellence Award for the Faculty of Arts is James [Jim] Cunningham from the Department of Philosophy.

Erin Hotson in her nominating brief eloquently described the passion, insight and most importantly confidence that ‘Professor’ Cunningham helped her reclaim - so much so, that Erin is transferring into Arts and Contemporary Studies [and not surprisingly the philosophy stream] this coming Fall !! And when she arrives – be assured that Professor Cunningham will know her and her name in that he is dedicated to knowing all his 200 plus students’ names by the fourth week of the semester !!!

In each of the moving student testimonials, ‘turning on’ to complex ideas and even more intricate readings was attributed to Professor Cunningham’s extraordinary ‘gift’ of storytelling and thespian reenactment. Students wrote of Professor Cunningham “jumping on the desk to get our attention, pretending to rip out his eyes as he told us the story of Oedipus, and banging his head mockingly against the blackboard when attempting to draw nothingness as it related to Sartre’s theory of consciousness”!! No wonder that Professor Cunningham was a semi-finalist in this year’s, TVO’s Big Ideas Best Lecturer contest.

Equally unique is Professor Cunningham’s love of the ‘simple teaching tools’ such as that ‘explanatory ‘go to the’ blackboard moment’, the impact of requiring students to sit as close to the front of the class as possible and the midterm as a ‘learning moment’. Dr Cunningham wrote in is teaching philosophy statement “my thesis is that the mid-term is not so much a form of evaluation as an opportunity for skills practice and teaching … in taking up the questions I want them to see the value of good writing under pressure and how acquaintance with the arts, history and other humanities is incomplete unless they are literate in the ways of the art gallery, museum and theatre; literature, magazines and newspapers and by way of involvement in the greater community.”

Never pretentious or condescending – Professor Cunningham is know campus wide for his humour, analogies, respect and genuine interest in and compassion for all students be they in his Business Ethics or the ‘famous’ Philosophy of Love and Sex course.

One student wrote “the world is a richer place because of ‘Cunningham’s’ teaching – as we walk out into the world, we take with us – the ability, confidence and strength to know ourselves, influence others and change the world we live in” – it just doesn’t get any better than that


Vicki Van Wagner
Faculty of Community Services

I am delighted to announce that the recipient of 2007 Ryerson Teaching Excellence Award for the Faculty of Community Services, is Vicki Wagner from the Department of Midwifery.

Vicki describes her teaching approach as: “My goal is to prepare students with not just the clinical skills and knowledge but also life skills for a lengthy and rewarding career. I have come to see that encouraging and modeling grace, self-esteem and belief in the process in the face of learning through mistakes and missteps is one of my most important roles. If the teacher loves learning and teaching and values both the learners and the process, the feeling is often contagious.

Her colleagues and students describe her as a great teacher and a mentor, an outstanding human being, and has played a critical role in her student’s success. She is never confusing and sparkles with excitement.

One of her students describes the impact of her teaching this way:

“Every once in a while, we are lucky enough to be in the presence of a true teacher – someone who inspires, who is a role model, who is patient and passionate, and who emulates who we one day wish to be.”

Another student states: “Vicki has a remarkable ability to generate thoughtful discussion. She has an awareness of group dynamics and is able to judge accurately when to contribute, when to intervene quietly, or when to let events happen on their own.”

One of her colleagues writes: “Vicki is recognized nationally as a leader in midwifery and midwifery education. She is recommended by everyone to sit on any committee that requires midwifery input. I have always found Vicki to be thoughtful and respectful of differing views on education, but always seeking ways to overcome the challenge.


Donald Tavares
Ted Rogers School of Management

I am very pleased to announce that the recipient of the 2007 Ryerson Teaching Excellence Award for the Faculty of Business is Professor Donald Tavares from the School of Business and Management"

Don started teaching at Ryerson in 1976. In his career, he received the CESAR (Continuing Education Students’ Association of Ryerson) Award for outstanding teaching for the academic year 1989-1990. He was also awarded Ryerson School of Business “Professor of the Year” award for outstanding teaching, in 1991-1992.

During his career at Ryerson, Don pioneered the integration of laptop computers in quantum methods courses. He also wrote 300 page-solution manual for QMS 202 (one of the courses) using SPSS to create the outputs.

In his teaching philosophy statement, Prof Tavares stated that “regular dialogues with students in the classroom lectures are stimulating and very enjoyable to me, and I hope that they are for students as well”. He also stated “teaching is the corner-stone of my life. It is my passion. I view my students as the important and integral part of my professional existence and so I welcome them and respect them”.

In the testimonial letters, one of Don’s colleagues said “a good teacher also needs to be a good student and Don is. He uses the newest presentation technology effectively, he keeps up with developments in our subject area and most importantly, he is always looking for better ways to facilitate students learning”.

One of his students wrote “He has ignited in me a strong interest in statistics. I am now seriously considering taking more statistics courses. It is true that a sincere educator can impact a student in a powerful manner”


M.F. (Frankie) Stewart
Faculty of Engineering and Architectural Science

It is my pleasure to announce that the recipient of the 2007 Ryerson Teaching Excellence Award for the Faculty of Engineering, Architecture and Science in the Department of Mechanical and Industrial Engineering is Mary (Frankie) Stewart.

After 22 years in the classroom at Ryerson, Frankie still stands out among her students for her vitality, enthusiasm, warmth, the friendly yet respectful relationships she fosters with them in and outside the classroom, and the “stimulating learning environment” she creates year after year.

Described as always “passionate and engaged” by both her students and her peers, Frankie writes in her Statement of Teaching Philosophy that the backbone of her teaching is fostering active and collaborative learning. Her students agree. Says one: “I was fortunate to have Professor Stewart for three courses during my studies at Ryerson... I enjoyed her lectures very much, for in them she was able to introduce theoretical concepts on a practical level. For many of my fellow first year students, this was quite refreshing amongst the endless mathematical labs we had to endure…we were able to visualize the various concepts via the physical pneumatic systems.” The student goes on to say that Frankie makes learning a hands-on experience and as such he was able to “touch” the concepts she taught. One of her colleagues notes: “Frankie is a strong proponent of the necessity of applying theory through active engagement and believes that hardware interaction is invaluable in motivating and increasing a student’s intellectual curiosity about a subject. She introduced Lego Mindstorm kits into one of her courses to allow her students to investigate system input/output relationships. This was a huge success.”

Her students rave about her “innovative teaching style” that simplifies difficult concepts and her impressive knowledge of her subject matter. No wonder that in W2007, 85% of all 4th year students in the department were registered in one of her electives! Students encourage one another to take her courses. Her peers are equally enthusiastic about her work in the classroom, recognizing her teaching innovations and strategies not only with awards, but with the most sincere form of flattery there is: imitation.


Dana Lee
Faculty of Communication and Design

It is my pleasure to announce that the recipient of the 2007 Ryerson Teaching Excellence Award for the Faculty of Communication and Design is Dana Lee from the school of Radio and Television Arts.

Dana first came to Ryerson as a student where he earned a Batchelor of Applied Arts in Radio and Television Arts. He then worked in the industry, where he worked in various capacities at CHUM Television for almost 20 years, including as the operations supervisor of Muchmusic.

Dana started teaching at Ryerson in 1996 in a part-time capacity. Currently, he’s best known for teaching the fundamentals of television theory to students enrolled in the Radio and Television Arts programme. Dana’s SRC activities are integrated with teaching, evident through the two text books he’s written for his classes, Television Technical Theory: Unplugged and Audio Technical Theory: Unplugged (to be released this fall). Dana is a member of Academic Council and on the Composition and Bylaws committee.

Dana’s reviews are impressive. From a colleague who nominated him, Dana is described as an extraordinarily talented, knowledgeable, committed and giving professor. His students describe him as engaging and entertaining, to name but a few adjectives.

One fourth-year student had this to say:
“To be alert for an 8:00 am lecture requires more than an early morning alarm clock and a caffeine jump start. But if you’re fortunate enough to begin your day attending a course taught by Dana Lee that’s a power surge all on its own.”

From a teaching review, a faculty member wrote, “It is to (Dana’s) credit that I don’t hear anymore about the “why” of this course from individual students or departmental council as we used to in the past”… a comment that stands out for me as a student.

Dana even ranked in the top thirty for TV Ontario’s best lecturer series last fall.


Melissa Abramovitz
Chang School

I am very pleased to announce that the recipient of the 2007 Ryerson Teaching Excellence Award for The G. Raymond Chang School of Continuing Education is Melissa Abramovitz.

Melissa received her Bachelor’s of Applied Arts in Photographic Arts, from Ryerson, her BA, Honours, in Peace, Conflict Studies, and Political Science from the University of Toronto, her MA in Curriculum, Teaching, and Learning from OISE, and her Certificate in Adult Training and Development from OISE. In addition to teaching in The Chang School, Melissa is a training consultant in diversity and cross cultural communication. Over the past 3 years, Melissa has taught conflict resolution and dispute negotiation and team work courses in both the interdisciplinary studies and not-for-profit programs in The Chang School.

In addition to teaching in the classroom, Melissa has also developed these courses for online delivery through Distance Education. Says her academic coordinator: “Melissa has taken a strong leadership role in the development of this course, both online and in the classroom. She stays current with the field through her own practice and brings that currency to on-going adjustments to the course.”

In her Statement of Teaching Philosophy, Melissa states: “to teach well, I need to move with my students through the learning process and model the attitudes and behaviours that reflect the ideology and practice of conflict transformation as we complete the journey together. …I believe that all students arrive in the classroom possessing skills, experience and wisdom drawn from their personal life lessons that enrich the classroom experience when shared. …the most important aspect of teaching for me is ensuring that all students feel safe to express themselves. In my class, there is always space for humour, emotion and constructive controversy.”

Her students’ comments are a testament to this philosophy. “Some instructors feel superior to their students but with Melissa she is just open and honest…she admits when she makes a mistake and this as a student allows you to feel safe and in return be open with your thoughts, questions or concerns.” Says another: “She is full of enthusiasm and makes learning fun. Most of all, Melissa has a great deal of respect for her students.”

“I didn’t know exactly what to expect from an online course but I know that I certainly did not expect to make a connection with the instructor and my fellow classmates like I have and I know that is a direct result of Melissa’s engaging teaching methods. This has allowed me to feel more personally connected to the material that was being taught and undoubtedly has contributed to my learning.”

Melissa certainly walks the team work talk. In her testimonial, Melissa’s nominator states: “As my faculty mentor, Melissa shared all of her materials, resources, and ideas. As well, she was willing to collaborate with me in order to discuss potential changes/ improvements to the course. Melissa was definitely a role model for me…”

I want to conclude by giving the last word to one of Melissa’s students:

“Her teaching style and comments reflect confidence in her knowledge of the subject matter and a teaching philosophy that views learners as co-laterals in the process of learning.”