Nic Fillion (front left) with SFU Philosophy alumni at the PSA conference held in Seattle, WA in November 2018 (edited to correct year and conference)

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Back-to-Back Cormack Awards for SFU Philosophy

October 17, 2019
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Congratulations to assistant professor, Nicolas Fillion who is one of this year’s winners in the FASS Cormack Teaching Awards. We’re very pleased to see back-to-back awards recognizing SFU Philosophy teaching excellence following Undergraduate Chair, Dai Heide’s award in 2018.  

The Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences presents up to four Cormack Teaching Awards annually, one each at the ranks of lecturer (or senior lecturer), assistant professor, associate professor, and full professor. Nominated by students, colleagues, chairs and directors, the awards recognize teaching excellence and supervisory contributions to department and faculty.

Nic, who holds degrees in mathematics as well as philosophy, counts Philosophy of Mathematics and Philosophy of Science among his areas of specialization in the department. He’s taught with SFU Philosophy since 2013, covering courses such as PHIL 110: Intro to Logic and Reasoning, PHIL 332: The Mathematics of Morality, and PHIL 310: Logic, Proofs and Set Theory, in addition to a variety of graduate seminars for our MA program.

It’s not just the traditional—he also has an eye to showing how philosophy applies in real life. During the spring 2017 term, Nic delivered PHIL 131, a selected topics course that dealt with Conspiracy Theories. The course led students through an analysis of conspiratorial beliefs, introducing the critical scrutiny required to assess them and judge their plausibility. Assessing these real-life issues helped students enhance their critical thinking skills. 

His approach to teaching philosophy is well received by undergraduates and graduates. Student recommendations supporting his nominations for the award note that high-energy delivery, use of humour, and selection of just the right examples helped explain tricky concepts. They also describe how his mastery of difficult subject areas translates into success in the classroom, leaving no one behind – not even for liberal arts students learning logic.

According to one student, “…his passion for teaching never fails to reach his audience. To my mind, he has achieved one of the greatest academic feats: getting liberal arts students excited about (and even to understand) logic—that dreaded mandatory requirement for philosophy majors. …it no longer felt like an arduous task with Dr. Fillion [as he] understands the struggles students go through.”

This is echoed by the Cormack Award selection committee, which found that [Fillion] gained converts to a course (Logic) that students do not think they'll understand or enjoy. The committee noted that enrollments in PHIL's logic courses have increased significantly since Fillion began teaching them.

According to Sean Zwagermann, FASS associate dean and committee member, “[The] committee [was] impressed with his commitment to pedagogy, particularly his open-source textbook.”

Out of the classroom, Nic is equally committed. Student recommendations for the award also note that his presence at Philosophy Student Union meetings helped moderate the casual conversation along philosophical lines, which helped increase undergrad interest in philosophy.

BC Ethics Bowl - Sands High School take on Princess Margaret School in the semi-finals

Nic's efforts are not just confined to SFU; he is involved in a number of initiatives designed to spread philosophy beyond academia and into real life. His work on bringing the BC Ethics Bowl to local high schools not only brought practical critical thinking into the classroom but also sent two teams to the first national championships in Manitoba earlier this year. 

His outreach spreads even further than BC and Canada; in 2016, he volunteered as part of Academics Without Borders to bring Logic, Computation and Proof, a two-week intensive course, to graduate computing science students in Ghana. Using his dual training in philosophy and mathematics, Nic’s teaching aimed to help improve problem-solving skills and mathematical proof construction with a solid foundation in logic to help the grads improve their computing science teaching and research skills. 

As mentioned, the department is extremely pleased with receiving back-to-back Cormack awards.
Department chair, Evan Tiffany confirms this. “Nic is richly deserving of this award, and the Philosophy Department is extremely proud of both our Cormack Award winners. For a small Department like Philosophy to win this prestigious award in consecutive years is a testament to value that our Department places on teaching and learning.”

Nic himself also recognises the award’s significance. “It’s an honour to receive the Cormack Award, and join all the great people who’ve received the award before. I love teaching, and it’s heartwarming to have confirmation that the teaching is loved, to some extent at least! It’s also good to hear that, after all, not all the jokes made in class were terrible! Thanks to the Department and to all the current and former students who’ve supported my nomination!”
Congratulations Dr. Fillion!

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