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 Rick Iverson Eugene McCann   Penelope Stella
Left to right: Rick Iverson, Eugene McCann and Penelope Stella

Excellence in Teaching awards 2008

April 30, 2009

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Good teaching is an art. SFU’s 2008 Excellence in Teaching award winners exemplify that art, sharing their enthusiasm, knowledge and time in a way that encourages their students to learn and grow.

Rick Iverson, Business
When SFU’s convocation ceremonies end, it’s not unusual for business graduands to rush over to SFU Business professor Rick Iverson to ask him to pose for photos, to tell him he was their favourite professor or to introduce him to their parents. As one of his colleagues says, "It’s actually a bit deflating to stand beside him at these receptions."

Iverson, who teaches human resources, enjoys celebrating his students’ convocation. "It’s part of the closure," he says, after a busy semester in which he has worked hard to integrate new research, experiences and even some fun into his lectures. Students, he says, should receive added value for attending classes, otherwise they might just as well surf the web. He also works hard to bring his personality into the classroom and to engage students in dialogue and analysis. After all, he says, "I’ve done close to 14 years of being a student myself. I know what boring is. And I know what stimulates, motivates and suffocates student learning."

Students obviously appreciate his efforts, regularly giving him perfect ratings for his courses. He has been a fixture on the business faculty’s teaching honour roll since joining SFU in 2001 from the University of Melbourne, and received the faculty’s TD Canada Trust Teaching Excellence award in 2004. As one student nominator observes, "He is the only professor I have ever seen getting a standing ovation on the last day of class at the end of the semester."

Eugene McCann, Geography

Eugene McCann grew up outside Glasgow, Scotland with a window view of cows grazing in the fields, yet cities and city politics have always fascinated him.

That fascination, coupled with his interest in teaching, shines through in his courses on urban geography.

"I’ve always enjoyed teaching, I guess because I like telling non-fiction stories," says McCann, associate professor of geography. "I like the challenge and satisfaction of achieving a narrative about an issue and presenting it in a way that resonates.

Teaching, he says, should extend beyond the classroom. That’s why he tries to expose students to different learning experiences, such as visiting urban experiments like Insite, the Downtown Eastside’s supervised drug injection clinic, or helping architects plan a proposal for a new student centre at the Burnaby campus. He also takes time to mentor students.

Says one nominator, "We are three time zones apart and I have since finished two years of graduate work in another university, and yet despite all of this, Eugene continues to invest much time in my development as a ‘wanna-be’ geographer."

McCann has been helping this former student to publish his BA honours thesis. "It was a chance to show him the ropes of publishing, because it was clear even at that stage that he would go on to do a PhD," he says. "It’s enjoyable when you can do that. It takes work, but it can be satisfying too."

Penelope Stella, Contemporary Arts
"When Professor Stella walks into the classroom the students’ eyes light up." That is just one flattering remark from among the many letters nominating contemporary arts professor Penelope Stella for a teaching excellence award.

Stella has spent her career training students not only how to act but how to take control of their own careers in theatre and film. Her goal is to ensure that when they leave university, they have skills to create their own opportunities instead of waiting for the phone to ring. And an extraordinary number of her students have gone on to form local independent theatre companies that include Boca del Lupo, Genus Theatre, La Luna Productions and Touchstone Theatre.

Stella and the late Marc Diamond, an SFU acting professor who was also her life partner, developed the Contemporary Arts acting program, which she now runs with professor Steven Hill. Like other acting programs, it includes one course that puts students through an emotional, social, political and physical ‘strip-down’ that forces them to look at themselves as a physical and emotional being. But SFU’s program, says Stella, lets students do this in their own time, even if it takes several years. "Everybody has their own learning style," she says. "We don’t dump them. It’s up to the student when they can handle it."

Says a former student who is now an artist-in-residence, director and teacher of theatre, "She has utterly transformed my life and the lives of hundreds of other students, colleagues, artists and friends with her brilliance, knowledge, inspiration, curiosity, support, love and passion for the arts and education."

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Trish Halsey Belsham

Hi Penelope from ranch life in the central interior BC. So good to know you are still teaching the work. I use what skills you and Mark gave me ever since in life and art. Thank you!!But I have forgotten something of real value..the games you taught us that create resistance in the process. The only one I remember is derailing. I think there were about six more. Can you tell me please. They would be a great help in my classes where I fuse dance and theatre. I hope you are well and thriving. love Trish(1980-1984)

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