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Four exceptional professors honoured with President’s Excellence in Teaching Awards

Annual celebration highlights Concordia faculty’s commitment to the classroom
June 4, 2014
By Tom Peacock

Philippe Caignon, Lan Lin, Lyes Kadem and Santo Romano
World-class teaching: Philippe Caignon, Lan Lin, Lyes Kadem and Santo Romano. | All photos by Concordia University

This month, Concordia is celebrating the accomplishments of four inspired teachers by honouring them with the President’s Excellence in Teaching Awards.

“These Concordians represent the best of the best,” says President Alan Shepard.

“We ask a lot of our professors, and they deliver strong, innovative teaching that complements the university’s research activities.”

The 2013-14 winners are Philippe Caignon, associate professor and chair of the Département d'études françaises; Lyes Kadem, associate professor in the Department of Mechanical and Industrial Engineering; Lan Lin, assistant professor in the Department of Building, Civil and Environmental Engineering; and Santo Romano, part-time faculty member in the Department of Design and Computation Arts.

Alan Shepard will present the 2013-14 President’s Excellence in Teaching Awards to Philippe Caignon, Lyes Kadem, Lan Lin and Santo Romano at a special reception on June 4.

Philippe Caignon: Award for Excellence in Teaching

Philippe Caignon’s dedication to pedagogy is well known among faculty and students in the départment d’études françaises, who enthusiastically endorsed him for the President’s Excellence in Teaching Award.

“I’ve never met as generous a professor,” says Natalia Teplova, an associate professor in the department. “In spite of his many responsibilities as department chair and a member of numerous 

Philippe Caignon

committees, Philippe is always there to meet students having difficulties, to motivate them and give them substantial help.”

Jason Camlot, associate dean of Faculty Affairs in the Faculty of Arts and Science, agrees.

“Through his approach, which empowers students to suggest and develop unique learning activities and the means of implementing them, Caignon’s classes contribute significantly to our students’  experience of teaching and learning.”

That sort of empowerment is the keystone of Caignon’s teaching philosophy. In his classes, students become their own co-instructors.

“I want them to create, invent and innovate,” he says. “It's not because they're students that they're not allowed to think like professionals or experts in their domain.”

Caignon's teaching is closely linked to his research. He was a member of a research group that examined the role of interdisciplinary in university teaching, and led the organizing committee of Concordia’s first annual Teaching and Learning Winter Festival in 2013.

In February, Caignon was awarded a 3M National Teaching Fellowship, Canada’s highest honour for university instructors. As Lucie Lequin, the Département d’études françaises professor who nominated him, notes, Caignon’s success as a professor stems in large part from his unwavering desire to further his own abilities.

"From the beginning of his career in the department, he has refused to settle into a comfortable teaching routine. He’s always looking for new ways to enrich his students’ education.”

Lan Lin: Award for Excellence in Teaching (New Faculty)

After joining the Department of Building, Civil and Environmental Engineering as an assistant professor in 2011, Lan Lin quickly earned a reputation as a highly committed and supportive instructor.

As Department Chair Mohammed Zaheeruddin ­— who recommended Lin for the President’s Excellence in Teaching Award (New Faculty) — explains, she proved especially helpful in monitoring and supervising student teams completing their capstone projects.

Lan Lin

“She is conscientious, dedicated and approachable, and spares no opportunity to assist students.”

Nazi Pazira, a master’s degree candidate, is one of those students. In explaining concepts, she says, Lin works through problems with their perspective in mind.

“She takes a sophisticated topic and peels it apart layer by layer. This make it a lot easier to understand the topic and how to break down an intricate problem.”

In their nomination, Lin’s colleagues also cited her commitment to research in structural and earthquake engineering, which is supported by a Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) Discovery Grant. She is currently co-supervising one PhD candidate, one postdoctoral fellow and five Master of Applied Science thesis students.

Lin sees this work as both an essential part of being an instructor — “It challenges me to upgrade my knowledge,” she says — and a fundamental component of each class.

“A good course must be a balance of academic work, research in the field and current practices in the field,” she says.

By connecting with her students, Lin hopes to help them hone their critical-thinking and problem-solving skills.

“I strongly believe that good teaching is the ability of the individual to communicate effectively with others,” she says. “Students should see the teacher as a role model from whom they are looking to learn and to receive personal advice. In the end, I want my classes to give them career options.”

Lyes Kadem: Award for Innovative Excellence in Teaching

Lyes Kadem, associate professor in the Department of Mechanical and Industrial Engineering, begins each of his lectures in thermodynamics by introducing a real-world engineering problem, which he then relates to the course material.

As Christopher Trueman, interim dean of the Faculty of Engineering, points out, this simple

Lyes Kadem

technique has proven “remarkably successful in motivating students in thermodynamics to appreciate the importance of this fundamental course.”

It is among the reasons he was nominated for the Award for Innovative Excellence in Teaching.

The method, though, is one of many that Kadem has developed to keep his students engaged and help them succeed. He prefers chalk and a blackboard rather than PowerPoint. He insists it keeps his lectures fresh, allowing for more exploration and forcing him to have a strong grasp of the material he’s presenting.

“The most important thing is that I have to respect the students and set an example,” he says. “If I ask the students to master something, I have to do it, too.”

Kadem introduced a micro steam car competition in his Thermodynamics II course. The exercise has been a success both in terms of learning and student engagement, says Martin Pugh, chair of the Department of Mechanical and Industrial Engineering.

“The students love doing the project, as it challenges them to design and build the steam car, by using the knowledge they are gaining in this course, plus others in their program. The winning cars show excellent integration of a range of engineering skills.”

Kadem’s own research, supported by an NSERC Discovery Grant, focuses on cardiovascular biomechanics. He is also the director of the Laboratory of Cardiovascular Fluid Dynamics (LCFD).

Kadem was first recognized for his classroom practice in 2011, when he won the President’s Excellence in Teaching Award (New Faculty). His goal, ultimately, is for his students to connect with the course material he guides them through.

“For me, the best way to evaluate that I did my job is to track down my students a couple of years later and find out that they still like my subject.”

Santo Romano: Award for Excellence in Teaching

Santo Romano, a part-time faculty member in the Department of Design and Computation Arts, carries his experience as a rock ‘n’ roll singer into the classroom.

“What the musician brings to the environment, the audience gives back,” he says. “It turns into this beautiful, reciprocal relationship — this symphony of energy.”

Santo Romano

He applies the same principle to his teaching, with the aim of connecting with his students on their own level. Dozens of letters in support of Romano’s nomination for the President’s Excellence in Teaching Awards prove that his approach works.

“His enthusiasm for the subject matter feeds into the energy of the class and makes for a passionate lecture each and every time,” one reads.

As another says, “Any class he teaches will inspire, challenge and motivate you to do work you never believed possible.”

Joanna Berzowska, chair of the Department of Design and Computation Arts, nominated Romano for the award. In her mind, there was no question that he deserved it.

“He truly and seamlessly moves between the worlds of art and design and academia and commercial practice, giving students the tools to develop proficiency as professionals and instilling in them the confidence, core skills and abilities essential to their success.”

Romano believes that his ability to do that hinges largely on his rapport with his classes.

“It’s about looking at our relationship as a partnership more than anything else. It’s about trying to give these young people the feeling that somebody believes in them, and that they can actually do this stuff. If you can communicate that successfully to your students, then they'll give it back to you a hundredfold.”

Learn more about other innovative professors at Concordia.

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