Head of the class: President's Teaching Awards 

By Karen Herland

Mary Silas, Venkat Ramachandran and Nancy Acemian were recognized by President Judith Woodsworth for their teaching excellence. Magnifying glass

Mary Silas, Venkat Ramachandran and Nancy Acemian were recognized by President Judith Woodsworth for their teaching excellence.

Three professors shared the spotlight on March 3 as recipients of the President’s Teaching Awards, the culmination of a search involving all sectors of the university.

Vice-Provost Teaching and Learning Ollivier Dyens relaunched a university-wide process to identify two recipients of the Award for Excellence in Teaching (one full-time and one part-time) and one recipient of the Award for Innovative Excellence in Teaching.

“Teaching at Concordia is very good, we know that,” said Dyens. “But teaching lacks the recognition structure we have for research.”

President Judith Woodsworth has long valued the importance of teaching. “The President’s Excellence in Teaching Awards were created to emphasize the importance of teaching in university life and the key role that it plays in the development of contemporary universities,” she said at the event.

In recent years, the Faculties have put increased emphasis on teaching recognition through Dean’s awards and other events. Concordia has also been working with the Conférence des recteurs et des principaux des universités du Québec to develop teaching recognition at the provincial level. This university-wide project fits between those two spheres.

This year’s nominees were reviewed by a committee, chaired by Dyens, including representatives from the Centre for Teaching and Learning Services, the CSU and all four Faculties.

The winners were selected after careful review of the nominations received in October and discussion of how to evaluate dossiers including material on courses taught, student evaluations, teaching philosophy statements from nominees and participation in course and curriculum development or innovation.

All three have taught in the Faculty of Engineering. “Students have come to expect excellent teaching within the Faculty of Engineering and Computer Science. Our excellent professors are the reason we have such a bright student body,” said Dean Robin Drew.

Both Venkat Ramachandran and Mary Silas earned recognition for Excellence in Teaching. The former first joined Sir George Williams University in 1969 and became the first Graduate Program Director of the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering. He developed special tutorial sessions prior to exams so students could get more directed academic support. The fact that these are held on Saturday mornings is a testament to his dedication and his students’ engagement.

“When I got the news I had to sit down for two minutes,” said Ramachandran. “Then I called my wife.”

Silas has been teaching English as a second language, along with specialized technical and business writing courses, spanning the Faculties of Arts and Science, Engineering and Computer Science and the JMSB. She has taught more than 40 course sections over her career. She continues to develop bonds with her students; “the student who introduced me at the award ceremony, is someone I taught just last term.”

Nancy Acemian earned the Award for Innovative Excellence in Teaching, on the heels of her win of the ENCS Teaching Excellence Award in April 2009. “It’s been an exciting year.”

As Drew wrote in her nomination letter: “Concentrating her efforts on the introductory courses that are widely acknowledged to be the hardest to teach, Nancy has pioneered new approaches that have made her not only popular with students but also a highly effective mentor and educator.”


Concordia University