Teaching & Learning

February 9, 2012

Two McMaster educators named 3M National Teaching Fellows

One is a political scientist with a passion for inspiring students to think independently.
The other is director of McMaster's Centre for Leadership in Learning, who believes the
best teaching comes from having the freedom to experiment.

Both have been selected to join an elite group of outstanding university instructors to
receive 3M National Teaching Fellowships. The group of 10 winners for 2012,
announced Thursday Feb. 9, become part of a group of 268 outstanding instructors
who have been named to the fellowship since the program began in 1986.

Though they practice in very different fields, the common element that binds
McMaster's newest 3M teaching fellows, political science professor Marshall Beier and
CLL director Susan Vajoczki, is a lifetime commitment to maximizing the educational
experience of students, particularly undergraduates.

Students and colleagues nominate candidates for the award, which is presented by 3M
Canada in partnership with the Society for Teaching and Learning in Higher Education to
individuals who demonstrate exceptional leadership and commitment to the
improvement of university teaching and learning. More than 33,000 instructors are
eligible for the award.

A selection committee awards as many as 10 fellowships annually.

"Considering the number of eligible and deserving scholars across Canada, I am thrilled
that two McMaster instructors have been named 3M Fellows," says McMaster president
Patrick Deane. "Marshall and Susan are deserving winners who exemplify the passion,
dedication and imagination that are the foundation of a McMaster education."

McMaster also had a double win in 2009, when Carolyn Eyles, now director of the
Integrated Science program, and Nick Bontis, an associate professor and director of
undergraduate programs in the DeGroote School of Business, were named 3M National
Teaching Fellows.

Beier described the award as a "tremendous honour". He said he works to empower
students by encouraging them to synthesize and evaluate information from many
perspectives, and by bringing undergraduates into high-level research.

"Good teaching is not just about imparting knowledge," he says. "It's about involving
students in knowledge, making them feel a stake in it and bringing them into
knowledge production."

He says teaching and research feed one another.

"Research is indispensable to teaching. To stay fresh, to keep our course content up to
date, to continually disseminate new knowledge, you have to have a research agenda,"
Beier says. "What I've found is that the opposite is also true: students are not afraid to
ask what would seem to be perhaps heretical questions. The heretical questions very are
often the goads to new thought, to creativity, to new movement in knowledge and I've
found that very important."

Vajoczki is fully immersed in educational issues as the director of the Centre for
Leadership in Learning, a professional development resource for instructors for across
campus. She started her career teaching in the department of Geography and Earth
Sciences, and the award recognizes her career achievements in both roles.

"Good teaching is so important because it's what engages our students," she says.
"Good teaching is what first ignites passion in students."

She describes herself as a pragmatic teacher. Knowing there are many ways to learn,
she simply backs up and finds a new way to start over when she comes upon a barrier.
The environment at McMaster encourages instructors to experiment, she says, and that
may well explain why 13 McMaster instructors have won 3M National Teaching
Fellowships.

"This is a place where we are allowed to innovate in our education, and it is often
rewarded," she says. "My role as the director of the CLL has made me much more aware
of what's happening on the national and international stages, and I have become much
more aware of how lucky we are here at McMaster."