Two Biology members win Faculty of Science teaching awards!

January 27, 2022

Department of Biological Sciences

This year, two of our graduate students have won 2020-2021 Faculty of Science Excellence in Teaching Awards: PhD candidates blake danis and Elana Varner!

blake is a PhD candidate in Dr. Vicki Marlatt's lab and was nominated by faculty members who worked with them in several courses, especially the challenging BISC 212 (Biological Research), an intense immersion in scientific research for undergraduate students, BISC 202 (Genetics), BISC 102 and BISC 316. Each speak to blake's exceptional kindness, knowledge and talent, and their willingness to go above and beyond to ensure each student feels welcomed and encouraged to learn in the course. Faculty and students emphasized blake's capacity to guide students towards a real understanding of complex concepts, their calm and positive demeanour, even during crises such as the transition to online learning during the COVID-19 pandemic, and their intuitive way of reaching out to help quieter students who may be struggling. blake's teaching philosophy is based on the idea that an education should be available to all, and they approach teaching with a willingness to meet each student where they are at. They are strongly committed to removing systemic, non-inclusive biases that can at times be inherent in the way information is presented. They are also committed to anti-racist pedagogy and deconstructing colonial ideals and principles perpetuated in academia, specifically in STEM. blake highly recommends going through the resources collated on the SFU library's Indigenizing Curriculum page to learn how to incorporate anti-colonial/anti-racists pedagogy into your own teaching. 

Elana is a PhD candidate in the Gries lab and was nominated by faculty who worked with her in BISC 202, as well as seeing her mentor students in individual BISC 498/497W research projects. Elana's nominators highlight how she is an exceptionally caring, creative, and inspirational educator to her students, providing an inclusive environment where students feel safe to take risks and make mistakes. During the pandemic, Elana learned that students felt isolated with remote instruction, and used this knowledge to create tools and community-building approaches to engage students. Her work in this area was so successful she was invited to present a "Remote Teaching Forum" through SFU's Centre for Educational Excellence! Elana draws from her experience as an undergraduate student in formulating her teaching philosophy. A key principle is ensuring that students see themselves represented in science, by relating course material to common STEM professions, and highlighting professionals from underrepresented groups in the field. Students share how Elana has gone above and beyond to inspire them to take on undergraduate research, modelling her ambition and work ethic, and her infectious curiosity!

Congratulations to blake and Elana!!