Teaching and a deep love of learning go hand-in-hand for this year's Cormack Teaching Award winner

October 20, 2023

Tamara O'Doherty, a senior lecturer in the School of Criminology, was honoured with the Cormack Teaching Award this year for her exceptional teaching skills, her relentless focus on teaching pedagogy, and her remarkable dedication towards her students.

"I am absolutely thrilled to be in a space where we are encouraged to reflect on our teaching practices and to keep learning about new approaches and creative solutions,” says O'Doherty. "To me, this award means I am on the right path, a good path."

O'Doherty's teaching journey started 20 years ago here at Simon Fraser University (SFU) as a teaching assistant. In 2008, she taught her first class as a sessional instructor and later joined the faculty team as a limited-term lecturer before becoming a continuing lecturer. She was promoted to the position of senior lecturer this fall. Through a long and impactful journey, O'Doherty has touched the lives of thousands of students in profound and meaningful ways.

"Tamara instilled in me a love of law that I never expected. She nurtured my passion for human rights and advocacy," says SFU Criminology alumnus and SWAN Vancouver project manager Victoria Harraway. “She also led by example and showed me the type of academic, instructor, colleague, and general human being I still aim to be to this day—someone who prioritizes respect and the ethical treatment of all people."

Looking back on her teaching career, O'Doherty acknowledges that the past few years have presented the most significant challenges, not only because of COVID-19 but also because of considerable societal changes and a wider "educational reckoning" that was already underway before the pandemic.

"We have had to sit and learn quite a bit about education itself, its links to inequity, its role in historical and ongoing colonization; its failures to include diverse learners, those with accessibility needs or other accommodations, and its technological weaknesses and possibilities,” says O'Doherty. "To be a good educator today, you absolutely need to be more than a subject-area expert, and I think academia has been a little slow to acknowledge and embrace this fact."

As a critical socio-legal scholar, O'Doherty aims to ensure that there is a diverse range of perspectives on law and to present it not as objective or neutral, but rather as a product of social and political construction.

"I think that it’s important that more of us know not only what the law entails, but also how the law is limited and what it can and can’t do to rectify wrongdoing, particularly on a societal level," says O'Doherty. "So, I strive to make law as accessible as possible, knowing that for too long, legal education has been accessible only to a small portion of our society."

In addition to being an expert in her field, O'Doherty enjoys incorporating creativity into her educational approach. She demonstrates this by presenting information to her students in unique ways, assigning interesting tasks, and being open to exploring new tools such as animation and infographics to make learning more engaging.

As a passionate educator, O'Doherty is a well-rounded professional with a deep commitment to social justice, her students, and her professional growth. She is constantly seeking new challenges and opportunities to learn, and her dedication to her craft has earned her the respect and admiration of her colleagues and students alike.

"Professor O’Doherty has made a profound difference in my life, steering me toward pursuing my academic aspirations while instilling the courage to challenge assumptions and explore diverse perspectives", says criminology student Austin Au. "Her influence demonstrates how exceptional educators can become inspirations and catalysts for personal and intellectual growth."