Recognizing ‘unique’ teaching

Donna Kotsopoulos and Edmund Pries were both nominated by a group of students, friends and colleagues for the Ontario Confederation of University Faculty Associations teaching award.

Photo by Jessica Dik
Photo by Jessica Dik

Two Wilfrid Laurier University professors were recently recognized for their unique excellence in teaching.

Donna Kotsopoulos and Edmund Pries were both nominated by a group of students, friends and colleagues for the Ontario Confederation of University Faculty Associations teaching award.

The award honours outstanding contributions to university teaching or academic librarianship, and was presented on Oct. 25.

Kotsopoulos, an associate professor in the faculty of education, a graduate coordinator and cross-appointed to the department of mathematics, said a group of people came together to nominate her for the award.

Kristiina Montero, a member of the faculty of education, led the nomination with support from Pat Rogers, associate vice-president of teaching and learning and Jeanette McDonald, manager of educational development at the centre for teaching innovation and excellence.

Other faculty, staff, former students and community members also came together to write a package for Kotsopoulos for the nomination.

There were a large volume of letters, but only 10 letters were sent to represent her.

Pries, an assistant professor in global studies, believes he won the OCUFA award thanks to his students and colleagues.

According to Pries, the nomination team included McDonald, but the official nominator was Michel Desjardins, associate dean of arts.

Kotsopoulos started teaching at Laurier in 2007.

Before then, she was an elementary and secondary school teacher. She now teaches in the bachelor of education program and mathematics.

“One of the things that was modeled for me was that I had amazing teachers from kindergarten straight through university, and what was modeled for me that I try to do with my own students is the idea of teaching in the in-between spaces,” she said.

She said one of her favourite elements about teaching is getting her students involved in her own research programs.

“It’s important to educate the student, but I believe teaching is more about developing the whole person. So what matters to you outside of the classroom — getting a job, the kind of things that you’re interested in, tapping into those interests in my teaching, connecting with you outside of the class on a one-to-one — these things are important to me.”

Kotsopoulos believes she was nominated for the award because of her mentorship with students and faculty.

She takes her teaching to a different level and believes other people saw that.

“I think teaching is a privilege and I don’t take that for granted, so to be recognized for something that’s such a privilege to do is quite incredible.”

Kotsopoulos also won the 2014 Hoffmann-Little award, presented by Laurier, in recognition of a faculty member for their excellence in teaching, research and professional endeavours. A group of former students believed she deserved the award and nominated her.

“Everybody can be excellent in the classroom, it’s what you have to offer when you’re sitting one-on-one with the student,” she said.

As for Pries, this is his second teaching award.

His first was the Wilfrid Laurier University Award for Teaching Excellence in 2011. Pries has been teaching at Laurier since 2008, but taught in Brantford from 2006 to 2007.

Previously, he taught at Laurier from 1999 to 2000.

When asked how he felt about winning the award, Pries said he felt very gratified.

“You teach because you love to teach,” he said. “Teaching is my passion — I love nothing more than being in a classroom with my students and exploring issues together with them. I want to hear what my students have to say because they have really good ideas and it helps me learn and understand an issue better when I’m processing an issue with students.”

According to Pries, it was a privilege to be recognized with the award, but he said it’s a bigger privilege to teach.

“I think that’s the greatest privilege, to be able to be in a university setting,” he said. “And this is a great university. We have such a good body of students, great faculty, great administrators in terms of building the overall environment for the university and all the other programs that go with them.”

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