Malgorzata Dubiel

Math prof awarded 3M for teaching excellence, leadership

February 20, 2008

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By Stuart Colcleugh

Correction Appended

It will come as no surprise to her SFU colleagues and thousands of former students that Malgorzata Dubiel was named this month to the 3M National Teaching Fellowship, a select group of 228 of Canada’s finest university teachers.

“I’m overwhelmed,” says Dubiel, a senior mathematics lecturer, who was introduced to Canadians along with this year’s other nine recipients in a special undergraduate issue of Maclean’s magazine. “It’s such a prestigious award I really didn’t believe I would get it.”

The annual award, now in its 23rd year, is sponsored by the Society for Teaching and Learning in Higher Education and 3M Canada to celebrate individuals who demonstrate exceptional leadership and commitment to improving university teaching. The 2008 winners were selected from 52 closely vetted nominations to join the fellowship, which represents a diverse range of academic disciplines from 43 Canadian universities.

Dubiel received a PhD in mathematical logic in her native Poland before joining SFU as a lab instructor in 1985. She was instrumental in designing SFU’s FanX99 course for first-year students who bombed at high school math. The course aims to develop their math study skills, instill confidence in their quantitative abilities and teach them how mathematics is both a key to mastering other disciplines and useful in everyday situations.

“Many colleges teach remedial courses that basically repeat high school courses, but our approach is different,” she says. “We focus on teaching people to think, to problem-solve and generally understand mathematics.

“So, I hope this award will contribute to focusing on the positive side of math and also on what SFU in particular can offer to students.”

Dubiel employs humour and an array of models, props and other devices to make learning math fun. And while math-phobic freshmen are her main concern, she is also bent on demystifying the subject in SFU’s Math 190 course for future elementary school teachers, because she says that’s where math anxiety often starts.

“An elementary teacher who doesn’t know math well or doesn’t particularly like the subject isn’t going to communicate it well, and that turns children off math right from the start.”

Dubiel also won the 2002 SFU Excellence in Teaching Award and the 1998 C.D. Nelson memorial award.

She is only the seventh SFU teacher to win a 3M fellowship. The others are psychology professor Dennis Krebs (2007), former English professor Janet Giltrow (1995), former psychology professor Gary Poole (1994), women’s studies professor emeritus Andrea Liebowitz (1989), the late English professor Robert Dunham (1988) and economics professor Peter Kennedy (1987).

Correction: September 23, 2008
The original, print version of this story mistakenly said that Malgorzata Dubiel was the fifth and not the seventh teacher to win a 3M fellowship. Professors Giltrow and Dunham were omitted from the original article.
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