2012 3M National Teaching Fellows

Marshall Beier
Political Science 
McMaster University

A colleague describes Marshall Beier as “the most outstanding university teacher I have encountered” in ten years. “If only all universities were so lucky,” adds a former student. Students value Marshall because he values them: “Students are much more than transitory guests of the collegium; they are an indispensible part of it.” He treats students as co-voyagers on the path to intellectual discovery, teaching them to think critically and argue logically and coherently. In classes on global politics, international theory, foreign policy, Marshall has created such curricula as “Weapons and War in the Digital Age,” actively linking course work with research.

Only 10 years out from the PhD, Marshall has won four major teaching awards—institutional, provincial, and national.  Students rate him very high, with 9’s and 10’s on a 10-point scale, and their written comments are a study in superlatives: “fantastic,” “outstanding,” “best,” “dynamic.” “His teachings have been foundational to much of my academic success,” writes one student.  As a teacher, a mentor, a course developer, and a researcher, Beier’s contribution is exceptional—a model.



Adrian Chan
Systems and Computer Engineering
Carleton University

Some students praise Adrian’s enthusiasm, mastery, and commitment.  The most-repeated word in his file, however, is “humble.”  Adrian’s teaching and his life demonstrate the sheer power of humility.  Its force shows in students’ comments.  They note the difficulty of the material and how hard they had to work in his course; still “it was the best course I’ve ever taken.”  Invariably, they remark Dr. Chan’s effect on their lives, both academic and personal.  They point to his openness, his unassuming nature, sharing stories of his family and rich personal life.  They sense the joy life gives him.

For seven years, Adrian has been active in the Shad Valley Program, an intensive summer school for high-achieving Canadian students.  Regarded by students and peers as “one of their greatest teachers,”  Seeking improvement, Adrian still registered in the Teaching Skills Certificate course.  “I am a teacher. I think of legacy in terms of the stories my children might tell their children about their father, and this frames my approach to life. I want to give of myself to leave a world behind that is better than when I found it.”








A.R. (Elango) Elangovan
Gustavson School of Business
University of Victoria

“Elango is the sort of person you see in inspirational movies, … stories about the dedicated professor or teacher who goes above and beyond to make a difference in students’ lives, …  but he is real,” testifies a former student.  She met Elango in a coffee shop she worked at: “He saw potential in me that I didn’t know was there.” This perspicacity at detecting and helping to actualize hidden potential is the mark of Elango, whether he teaches organizational behaviour or fosters organizational development, whether he addresses students or coaches colleagues at all levels of his institution, whether he does it or inspires it at home in Victoria or around the world, in Chile, India or China.

Indeed, in his creative quest to empower human growth, Elango has added a powerful twist to his profound feel for Marcel Proust’s “the only real journey is not in visiting strange lands but in looking at life through different eyes.” He made “visiting strange lands” a powerful way for his students look at life through those “different eyes.” Welcome to the virtual citizenship of 3M-National-Teaching-Fellow-Land, Elango, may it add a bright new eye to your repertoire! We are certain your company will add one to ours!


Sarah Forgie
Department of Pediatrics
Faculty of Medicine and Dentistry
University of Alberta

Sarah Forgie describes her approach to teaching as “medutainment”; the goal is learning not instruction.  She bases her medical teaching on entertaining and effective evidence-based techniques guided by the principles: “Simplify the message.  Involve your learners. Take creative risks. Evaluate and refine frequently.” Much to her students’ delight, Sarah’s “Triple EB Jazz Band” visits her class on anaerobic bacteria.  She dons a beatnik poet persona and tells the story of Harry Houdini and his ruptured appendix to the jazz song Take Five.  She describes how the bacteria become involved, and the resulting need for treatment—all to the beat!

This creative risk in teaching effectively helps her students retain the necessary information upon examination and is shared extensively at conferences and in publications. Gremlins, grapples, pandemic role playing, and other teaching aides intensify Sarah’s teaching effectiveness: “The bugs come alive,” notes one student, “as if a long lost friend of yours. You know them well, their personalities, their strengths, and importantly their weaknesses.” Actively engaged in the community, Sarah’s messages of infection prevention and wise use of antibiotics are spreading in epidemic proportions through conferences, newspapers, magazines, podcasts, vodcasts, television, radio and the internet.

Marjorie Johnson
Department of Anatomy and Cell Biology
Schulich School of Medicine and Dentistry
Western University

Believing teachers must have “passion for their subject and compassion with their students,” Marjorie Johnson cautions, “Teaching is a privilege; we should not take it lightly because we cannot predict the extent of our influence.”  Marjorie’s teaching, including the use of props – footballs and bed sheets to name a few – to present various internal organs has been instrumental and effective in helping students learn and in influencing their future teaching methods. One former student says, “I still remember the props and demonstrations she used in my class in 2004 … Now that I am teaching my own class, I find myself imagining how Dr. Johnson would have reacted to certain situations”.

Another student describes Marjorie and her influence, almost reverentially: “You’re passionate, gentle, and humble and you’ve motivated me to invest more in the learning process so that I’m able to actually process knowledge not just let it pass me by.” In the true spirit of collaboration, Marjorie believes in creating leadership and team building opportunities, embedding them in her curriculum for students, colleagues, and administration. An avid presenter, group facilitator, and workshop coordinator within and beyond her institution, Marjorie’s far-reaching influence clearly demonstration her passion and compassion. G.B. Shaw once wrote: “The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.”  Marjorie has solved the problem.

Charles Lucy
Department of Chemistry
University of Alberta

“I feel privileged to be a professor,” writes Chuck Lucy, who arrived in a Chemistry Department recognized for outstanding research and catalyzed the process of making a department, known also for its excellence in teaching, an “outstanding” learning environment.  “He has a magical way of capturing his audience,” says a former student.  Magic and humour permeate the testimonials to this “phenomenal and inspiring teacher.”  In large classes, Chuck says he strives mightily to remember every student’s name.  The entire class considers questions large and small in e-mail exchanges.

Charles Lucy is a pedagogical leader at the University of Alberta, creating, with 3M Fellow Glen Loppnow, formal and informal opportunities for science colleagues to engage in the scholarship of teaching.  Nationally and internationally, Chuck has made his influence felt: “I continue to look to Chuck for inspiration and guidance” (a San Diego colleague).  Charles Lucy, however, is more modest: “I have neither the swagger of John Wayne nor the charisma of Hawkeye Pierce. Rather, I most associate with Charlie Brown. As Charlie Brown seeks to find the meaning of Christmas, I seek to find the essence of teaching and learning. I am a sponge for the environment around me—you learn from everything.”


Toni Samek
School of Library and Information Studies
Faculty of Education
University of Alberta

Toni Samek’s research interests, personal and professional passions, and discipline work in ways defying easy explanation, but they coalesce around her central conviction: “I am an activist teacher who pushes for the right to education.” A student says, “This is the most inspiring professor I have encountered.” Toni is herself inspired by Thomas Sergiovanni’s insistence that “leaders are ‘canny outlaws,’ system benders,” and she expands the audience for her convictions from her classroom and published research, to international forums on information ethics, freedom of expression, and freedom of access to information.  With great individual freedom comes great responsibility.

Toni lives this motto and follows her principles with incredible energy and conviction.  Her absolute belief in freedom of speech and access to information, freedom from censorship by oneself or by others, inspires students and colleagues far and wide, as she leads by her ideas and by her example.  Her courses include, “Teaching Humanistic Concerns Through Roundtable Discussion” and “Teaching Critical Thinking Through Deep Engagement with Real-World Policy Development.”  In word and deed, Dr. Samek is drum-tight with ardent conviction. Perhaps a former student’s hand-written note says it most clearly: “A huge thank you for speaking at and participating in Banned Books Café 2010!  Keep fighting the good fight!”


Susan (Sue) Vajoczki
School of Geography and Earth Sciences
Director, Centre for Leadership and Learning
McMaster University

Whether it is teaching or educational leadership, Sue Vajoczki’s influence transforms students, teachers, and others involved in student learning. Willing to take risks, Sue’s commitment to student-centered teaching is evident in her creation of unique experiences for students through research grants, internships, and exchange opportunities in Canada and abroad. Sue includes experiential learning regardless of class size and students enthusiastically speak of its transformational effects: “Having a hands-on-approach required us to truly understand the material instead of just memorizing the answers.  Instead of surface (and transient) knowledge, this approach gave me a cognitive (and lasting) understanding of the material.”

Intrigued by an insatiable desire to understand how students learn and what helps to augment their learning, Sue musters a variety of teaching methods, evaluates, reflects, and reacts accordingly.  This evidence-informed approach has also resulted in Sue’s becoming a prolific presenter and author on the subject of her teaching methods.  Her scholarship of teaching and learning and her pedagogical influences range farther and deeper.  One international colleague characterizes Sue as “a rising star in higher education research and development nationally and internationally.”

Sue, working with contagious, boundless energy and enthusiasm, continues to enhance McMaster’s Centre for Leadership and Learning to an active, accessible, and influential resource.


Connie Varnhagen
Department of Psychology
Faculty of Arts
University of Alberta

“Doing What Works”: these words define Connie Varnhagen.

Using efficient, effective, and accessible approaches, she ‘does what works,’ giving her students varied learning opportunities.  Connie believes in creating learning environments based on trust, respect, and caring; each and every student has potential to learn. Students respond: “I liked how enthusiastic the teacher was, making the material easy to understand,” and “I liked how interactive the class was and enjoyed learning information that was applicable to my everyday life.”

Breaking down disciplinary silos, Connie was instrumental in the design, implementation, and effective delivery of the interdisciplinary Science 100 course.  Connie’s enthusiasm for integrating research into teaching led to one student’s writing: “She instilled in me a love for science and taught me how to think critically and encouraged independent thought and discovery based learning.”

An advocate for evidence-based teaching, Connie collects valuable data on student learning to inform her practice and abundantly shares in presentations and in publications.  As noted in one letter of support Connie’s “workshops on teaching large enrolment classes are so well known for their valuable information she provides that a room holding 100-150 has to be booked and even at this, there is often standing room only.”


Fiona Walton
Faculty of Education
University of Prince Edward Island

Fiona Walton’s nominator said: “Her work has expanded the notion of what, and where, a university can be in the Canadian context.”  This was exemplified on Canada Day 2009 when 21 Inuit women students in Iqaluit graduated with Master of Education degrees.  Fiona was instrumental in establishing that groundbreaking program. In Fiona’s teaching philosophy she writes about “rocking the boat and stirring the pot in ways that maintain safety, but also provoke critique and invite pre-service teachers and undergraduate students to take an active role in shaping and improving the world,” and that is what she has managed to do in her work on Inuit education over 30 years.

Fiona is a visionary, courageous, and determined educator who effects change, makes a difference, and whose tireless efforts promote and create a lasting legacy in Aboriginal education. As a co-creator of innovative courses such as Leadership in Postcolonial Education, Introduction to Aboriginal Education, and Integrating Aboriginal Themes into the Curriculum, Fiona changes minds and hearts as she helps teachers to create safe and inclusive learning environments for all students. Highlighting her experience in pre-service teaching and working with Fiona, one student noted: “She gave me room to grow and the freedom to fail, but I always knew she was nearby, encouraging me to take risks and improve my teaching.”