Faculty Profile: Dr. Heesoon Bai, Education

February 10, 2016

We're delighted to profile the winners of the 2015 Dean's Awards for Excellence in Graduate Studies. Dr. Heesoon Bai received an award for Excellence in Supervision.

Two years ago, when Dr. Heesoon Bai polled a class of graduate students on their emotions and learned that 9 out of 10 of them were tending in the direction of stress, anxiety, feeling not confident, and/or downright unhappy, she knew she had to implement something innovative in her classroom. Since that memorable class, she offers time at the beginning of the class for quiet reflection and contemplation. Following that, an opportunity is offered for everyone to share his/her “here and now” state of being along with any experience that is important to them and that they feel secure about sharing.

Dr. Bai has found that this initial personal space opportunity allows her students to feel safe, relaxed, and animated in each other’s company and to be ready to engage in a uniquely intense and meaningful collaborative learning journey. She has been co-developing, with Dr. Avraham Cohen, this and other collaborative and interpersonal (or, as she calls it, “intersubjective”) approaches to creating classroom community and environment, as well as to supervisory work. Her stated intention is to holistically improve the emotional wellbeing of her students and to promote the practice of “embodied mindfulness” as a response to the current hectic world with which we are all too familiar.

Breaking out of familiar paths has been a hallmark of Dr. Bai’s career. She incorporates philosophical teachings and practices from the wisdom traditions, especially the Eastern philosophies, into more conventional Western academia. In 2014, Dr. Bai helped launch The Master of Education in Contemplative Inquiry program: the first of its kind in North America.  

According to Dr. Tom Brown, now Director of the GDBA program in the Beedie School of Business, and one of her enthusiastic nominees for this award, says, “It cannot be mere coincidence that for two years in a row two of Heesoon's students were awarded the Dean’s Convocation Medal.”

One of those award recipients, Dr. Tom Culham, a former engineer turned into a philosopher of education and a champion of business ethics teaching, highlights Dr. Bai’s commitment to her students. He cites the many invitations students receive to co-author journal articles and book chapters, to co-edit scholarly books, present at conferences, to become research assistants, tutor-markers, as well as to teach. All these opportunities advance her graduate students’ learning, performance, and future prospects as scholars and academicians.

Dr. Bai has supervised 65 graduate students since 1998, while also informally mentoring many others. She has been honoured with several other awards including the Excellence in Teaching Award and the Canadian Committee of Graduate Students in Education Mentorship Award.

Perhaps the most impressive attribute of Dr. Bai’s supervision is her ability to see the potential in her students. Dr. Johanne Provençal, a former PhD supervisee and currently Assistant Vice-Provost in the Health Sciences Sector, at the University of Toronto, says that one of Dr. Bai’s most incredible strengths is “her ability to see a student’s strengths and to help a student draw them out, build on them, explore them, and turn them into scholarly discovery.” Dr. Provençal is one amongst many former supervisees of Dr. Bai who are successfully pursuing their academic and administrative careers in universities across Canada and beyond.

Somehow, Dr. Bai still finds the time to provide support and inspiration to all who ask, and provides a welcoming atmosphere for even the most “out there” projects.  

The 2016 Dean of Graduate Studies Awards for Excellence are open for nominations. Deadline for nominations is March 15, 2016.

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