2021 A&S Outstanding Teaching Awards

June 15, 2021 by Chris Sasaki - A&S News

The Faculty of Arts & Science presents Outstanding Teaching Awards annually in recognition of teaching excellence in undergraduate and graduate education. They are given to faculty for the excellence of their classroom instruction and for their contribution to their unit’s course design and curriculum development.

Congratulations to this year's recipients:

Jennifer Harris — Department for the Study of Religion

Portrait of Jennifer Harris.

Jennifer Harris, an associate professor in the Department for the Study of Religion, teaches courses ranging from fundamental introductions to the study of religion and Christianity, to courses examining the western discourse on world religions, as well as religion and pop culture.

The award recognizes her leadership in undergraduate teaching within the department and the Faculty, her commitment to student learning and engagement, and her pedagogical approach. As well, she has made significant contributions to the department’s courses and curriculum at both the undergraduate and graduate levels.

It is also acknowledgement of her commitment to her own development as a teacher, and to her dedication to the development of the teaching abilities of those around her — including graduate students — through her approach to mentorship.

In addition, Harris took on the role of online teaching liaison for her department during the pandemic after being involved in the development of online learning in the years prior. In that role, she was invaluable in helping fellow faculty members and teaching assistants in both the technical and pedagogical aspects of online teaching. Her critical contribution is reflected in the fact that she is now a member of the A&S Digital Learning Strategy Steering Committee.

Harris’s students recognize the effort and care she puts into developing innovative and effective teaching practices. They are grateful for her efforts in creating exceptional learning experiences and value how she “engineers classes for the success of her learners.”

Alex Hernandez — Department of English

Alex Hernandez.Alex Hernandez is an associate professor in the Department of English whose teaching and research interests include 18th-century literature and culture, tragedy, Enlightenment, religion and secularization, the history of emotion and the works of Jane Austen.

These subjects can be daunting to many but because of his pedagogical approach, Hernandez’s students report they are highly engaged and inspired by his classes. For example, he brings the study of Jane Austen to life with a multi-modal approach that includes period dance demonstrations, costume design, field trips, dramatic readings and games that are not just engaging; they result in sophisticated analyses, independent research and thinking, and challenge students’ perspectives.

His colleagues also credit his significant contributions to increasing enrolment and transforming the study of the 18th century in the department. It is a testament to his value to the department that fellow faculty have followed his lead in creating courses like his that grant students a share of ownership over what they’re learning by developing or adapting to students’ needs, interests and passions.

Hernandez’s students attest to his ability to build strong connections and relationships with all of them and they value his capacity to create a “welcoming and safe learning environment where everyone’s voice is heard.”

They also say, “...there is no separation between the joy of literature and the seriousness of its study, and it is Hernandez’s ability to blend these two that makes his classes so unforgettable.”

Barbora Morra — Department of Chemistry

Barbora Morra.Barbora Morra is an associate professor, teaching stream, in the Department of Chemistry, whose research interests include synthetic organic chemistry and chemistry education.

Morra is strongly engaged with modern chemistry pedagogy and received the teaching award for the impact she has had on chemistry education within the department and throughout the Faculty, and for her extensive and continuing contributions to course redesign and curriculum development.

Among many contributions, she has developed an array of new, practical lab experiments that have been implemented into multiple courses. She has also developed a wide variety of innovative resources and learning tools across a range of courses — including lab technique and safety videos which are especially useful because they are transferable to students in other courses and institutions.

Her contributions during the pandemic include the creation of a suite of eight experiments that provided students with a meaningful laboratory learning experience despite pandemic restrictions.

Morra is also playing a leading role in the department’s curriculum renewal process which includes an overhaul of the introductory chemistry program in order to better engage students and incorporate new themes that reflect the department’s missions — themes such as green and sustainable chemistry, as well as inclusivity and equality within the sciences.

Her colleagues credit her with creating an active learning environment in which students are encouraged to think like scientists. Her students attest to her compassionate teaching style that respects their needs and generates an enthusiasm for learning.