3M national teaching fellowship honours SFU lecturer Sheri Fabian
By Christine Palka
University lecturer Sheri Fabian offers three gifts to her students and colleagues: opportunity, personal growth and an understanding of both the privilege and obligations that accompany teaching and learning.
These exceptional contributions earned her a 2019 3M National Teaching Fellowship and an invitation to join its prestigious cohort devoted to the art of teaching. The fellowship is awarded by the Society for Teaching and Learning in Higher Education.
“Sheri is a passionate and committed educator, who has had an enormous impact on the lives of students, facilitating their development as critical, complex and confident thinkers. She also is an incredible mentor not only of students and teaching assistants but also of other faculty. SFU is a richer place because Sheri is part of our learning and teaching community,” says Dr. Elizabeth Elle, SFU’s vice-provost and associate vice-president, learning and teaching.
The award recognition gives Fabian a national platform to facilitate discussion, encourage growth, and learn from others about transformative issues facing post-secondary institutions.
Among these is Canada’s obligation to decolonize curricula, and to incorporate Indigenous knowledges in classrooms and institutions. Fabian embraces this obligation, using her 15 years of research on behalf of residential school survivors to help others appreciate the real and immediate need for action.
“I hope that my leadership will result in a day when I no longer need to speak out when colleagues or students make gendered or racialized comments, and when settlers accept and work to change Canada’s history of colonialism and the impact of residential schools on Indigenous peoples,” says Fabian, director of SFU’s Institute for the Study of Teaching and Learning in the Disciplines. “I aim to help create an institution where everyone values and respects learning and teaching.”
Fabian, who won a 2016 SFU Excellence in Teaching award, takes risks in her criminology classroom and encourages her students to do the same. Rather than shy away from social issues in her lessons, she prepares students to feel discomfort and emotion, and warns them they may struggle with the issues and the material.
“I want students to appreciate the power of open-minded thinking, to question their assumptions, and to recognize the role of multiple perspectives and their importance in understanding the complexities that make up the world in which we live,” she says.
“My focus on critical thinking skills pushes students outside of their comfort zones, challenges their preconceptions, and engages them in experiential learning.”
Fabian says she is not interested in being mediocre, good or even superior. Instead, she strives to inspire.
Says a former student who values Fabian’s mentorship, “Good teachers change students’ lives. Sheri changed the way I view myself, hence the way I see the world. She showed me there is a path for me, with a pat and a push on the back.”
Fabian is the seventh SFU teacher to win a 3M National Teaching Fellowship.