Faculty-Level Teaching Awards: Why Bother? — Mario Coniglio

The ritual is the same each year  – I, as our Faculty’s liaison for Waterloo’s Distinguished Teaching Awards (DTA), email reminders to our Department Chairs and School Directors about the February nomination deadline. Soon after, around reading week, I receive the Science dossiers from Verna in the CTE, and shortly after that, we have our suggested ranking to forward to the DTA committee.

While I was aware that Math had their own faculty-level teaching award, and I also knew that the Biology department also recognized its top teachers, it became clear that a Science Faculty-level award, would be a great way to raise awareness of the value we place in Science on excellent teaching, and to recognize our star performers. The Dean asked me to develop and implement the idea.

I consulted with a colleague in Math to see how their award works and brought this information to a committee, which included a representative from each unit in Science, with me as Chair. Together we hammered out the terms of reference for the award and eventually settled on its name “Excellence in Science Teaching Award”, or ESTA. I Googled ESTA just to make sure that there were no surprises out there since that acronym was more likely to be used routinely than the full award name.

The key part of the terms of reference are (1) who is eligible for an ESTA and (2) who could nominate. For the former, we included all full- or part-time faculty or instructional staff, lecturers, clinical teachers and demonstrators. Sessional instructors, student TAs, former DTA winners and winners of external teaching awards (e.g., OCUFA, 3M) would not be eligible.  A nomination could come from anyone who learns, teaches or works at Waterloo.

ESTA committee members were charged with  making their respective departments/schools aware of the award, for coordinating nominations and for submitting complete dossiers to the committee ahead of its meeting where they would be reviewed. The dossier had to include various letters of support (see details in ESTA website). The committee sent its ranking of nominees to me ahead of the meeting, but representatives were not able to include in their rankings any submissions from their own jurisdictions. This process allowed the actual committee meeting to move very smoothly, as the rankings greatly focussed our discussion.

Science Computing developed a banner announcing the award and it was displayed on our various monitors in the Faculty. A website for the ESTA was developed, and a link was embedded so nominations could be sent electronically. I am amazed how smoothly this worked, and highly appreciative of the various folks in Science, who worked behind the scenes, to make the roll-out of the ESTA as glitch-free as it was.

Science plans to recognize up to two ESTA winners annually. Their names will appear on a plaque outside the Science Undergraduate Office, and each winner is awarded a $1500 prize which can be used to toward a range of teaching-related purposes within their department/school, faculty or university.

This year’s two winners are Vivian Dayeh from Biology and Firas Mansour from Physics and Astronomy. They will be recognized at the annual Science Faculty Reception at the end of the Winter term, where various other Science award winners are recognized, as well as new faculty introduced.

If anyone is interested in developing their own teaching award for either departmental or faculty use, you might find our ESTA website to be a useful resource. I’d also be pleased to answer any questions you might have about the ESTA, so feel free to contact me.

Mario Coniglio, Associate Dean of Science, Undergraduate Studies

Leave a Reply