Rehabilitation sciences instructors honoured by students
Three faculty members at the College of Rehabilitation Sciences were recently recognized by their students with Excellence in Teaching awards, which are given annually to one faculty member in each of the college’s three main programs – Respiratory Therapy, Occupational Therapy and Physical Therapy – and voted on by that year’s graduating class.
The awards are usually handed out at the college’s convocation dinner, but in 2020 the honour was a little more low-key.
All three winners were told in surprise virtual meetings with Dr. Reg Urbanowski, dean of the College of Rehabilitation Sciences.
“The dean set a Zoom meeting with me. It just appeared in my calendar and I didn’t know what it was about, so I attended and he told me then about the award,” said Liz Harvey, a senior instructor who won the award for the physical therapy department.
“To be acknowledged by the students themselves, those who are most affected by what I do, is fantastic,” she said. “And this comes at a time when we really need some positivity in our lives.”
Harvey teaches mostly first-year courses in the master of physical therapy program, with a focus on musculoskeletal physiotherapy. She also does hospital-based courses and integrated tutorials.
Tom Pachal, recent graduate and former senior stick for the department, said Harvey’s ability to get to know students on a personal level was among the reasons she was given the award.
“She did more than just stand up and lecture to us all. She was very engaging on a more personal level,” he said. “A few of us had contact with her throughout COVID and she was always checking in.”
He also noted her sense of humour as an important attribute. But Harvey said getting that humour across has been challenging during the pandemic.
“A lot of that comes from the expression on my face. But we’re doing some in-person labs, and I realized students can only see my eyes behind my mask and goggles, so they’re not getting the humour as much,” she said. “I believe any instructor is a bit of a performer. You’re up there in front of people and you have to get a feel for your audience, but that energy is missing on Zoom.”
Respiratory Therapy instructor Sandra Biesheuvel said she was “shocked, really surprised and happy” when she heard about the award.
“This provides me with reinforcement that I’m getting through to my students and that what I’m teaching them is sinking in and is meaningful to them,” she said.
Biesheuvel teaches an introduction to health systems class in the first year of the bachelor’s program and primary care, general therapeutics and simulation in the second year.
Keko Mastin, current senior stick for respiratory therapy, said Biesheuvel is an empathetic teacher who helps students through various stressors.
“She makes her class entertaining, interesting and fun,” Mastin said. “We appreciate our field of work more when she teaches us not to only perform medical techniques but to be active leaders in our community.”
Biesheuvel said she thrives on interacting with her students, which has led to a bit of a bittersweet feeling about her award.
“Usually this is handed out at a dinner and you get to see the class. One of the students presents the award and you get to shake their hand and thank everyone. So not having that, there’s no closure for me,” she said. “It’s such an honour to receive the award, but I can’t show my appreciation back to the class, which is difficult.”
Occupational Therapy instructor Susan Hales, who teaches practice skills to first year students and assists in second year courses, also said the awards was a huge honour.
“I’m surrounded by people who are excellent instructors and it’s nice to be thought of among them,” she said. “There are so many things you have to do in the course of a day that sometimes you don’t always feel that you’re doing your best, so it’s nice to know that whatever I did, they appreciated.”
Eric Koskie, former senior stick, described Hales as kind, empathetic and passionate. He said she shares her creativity, resilience, humour, and passion for teaching when faced with difficult challenges, like impromptu distance learning, which occurred part-way through the final term for the Class of 2020.
“She called herself at a mama bear for us when we were in tough times, especially at beginning of COVID,” he said. “She was a sturdy and calming presence for us, and was often found cheerleading or offering laughter when it was most needed.”
“Because we had been together for three quarters of the program already, the students knew me and I knew them, so relating on Zoom was less difficult,” Hales added. “It’s harder to relate to a screen. You don’t get that same feedback, so you don’t always know if you’re meeting their needs.”