Students give profs high marks for inspirational teaching

July 13, 2006, volume 36, no. 6
By Diane Luckow



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Instilling enthusiasm in first-year students is crucial, yet many experienced professors eschew large first-year courses. Not Zamir Punja.

Along with his graduate teaching and upper division courses in the department of biology, he also teaches Introductory Biology 101.

A previous winner of the SFU Excellence in Teaching award, this year Punja has claimed a $1,000 faculty of science teaching award.

Senior lecturer Andrew DeBenedictis, who has taught at SFU for five years, won the same award for his exemplary teaching at both the undergraduate and graduate levels.

The award recognizes DeBenedictis' energy and enthusiasm for all aspects of teaching, including textbook evaluation, instructional technology and a stint as undergraduate advisor.

For Punja, demonstrating how biology can impact daily life is key to keeping 385 students engaged in two 50-minute lectures each week.

He says that he tosses in discussions about his own research on plant genetics “to build a connection between textbook materials and the reality and achievements of biological research.”

He also uses issues such as genetic testing and cloning in humans, the spreading of infectious diseases, and global warming to focus attention on biology's important role in society.

At the graduate level, he encourages students to explore deeply topics that have personal relevance.

DeBenedictis, whose students consistently evaluate his teaching with straight As, also likes to emphasize the practical as well as the theoretical.

“It's very important, especially in the early years of an undergraduate degree that students realize physics is not an obscure and esoteric topic.”

He is so devoted to teaching that he even created and offered a summer course related to key mathematical concepts that he felt were missing from the physics curriculum.

“I felt it was important so that our students in this field did not graduate with a gap in their education.”

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