Talented, dedicated faculty members earn 2017 Merit Awards
Three professors at Robson Hall Faculty of Law have received prestigious recognition for their work after being named winners of the 2017 UM/UMFA Merit Awards. In the Humanities and Social Sciences section, Dr. Bruce Curran and Dr. Virginia Torrie received Merit Awards in the category of Teaching. Dr. Donn Short won a Merit Award in the combined category of Research, Teaching & Service. This is Dr. Short’s fourth university award. Merit Award winners receive $3,000 each.
“Learning should be fun. There should be a line of sight between what is being learned and its practical application.” – Dr. Bruce Curran
Both Drs. Curran and Torrie are devoted teachers, constantly working to improve their craft. A member of the Faculty since 2016 teaching Contracts, Trusts and Negotiation, Curran said he relies on three methods to engage his students, first demonstrating why the material is important and why students should care, using topical news stories to show how it has “real world” application. Next, he explains how the material relates to topics already studied, and to the course as a whole. Finally, he seeks to make lectures fun with humour and pop culture video clips such as South Park. “Learning should be fun,” he said. “There should be a line of sight between what is being learned and its practical application.”
Enhancing the negotiation program at Robson Hall has been Curran’s particular contribution to the Faculty, wherein he facilitates classroom simulations and workshops, bringing in practicing lawyers to coach the students. He organizes a “final negotiation exercise” where students are video recorded and review their performances after, and finally participate in internal and external negotiation competitions to test their skills. “Negotiation skills are critical to success in legal practice,” he said, “and are more important now than ever, given that effective negotiation between lawyers can settle cases early and reduce the current back-log in the court system.”
Curran stresses the importance to him of participating in as many extra curricular law school activities as possible including the Distinguished Visitors Lectures, student-faculty lunches, the annual student-run Coffee House, and events organized by the Manitoba Indigenous Law Students Association. “My hope is that when I and my fellow colleagues attend these events,” he explained, “the students view this as a sign of support, and ultimately this provides a positive learning environment, in which students feel comfortable participating in class and approaching their Professors for extra help.”
On being notified that he would receive a 2017 Merit Award for teaching, Curran said, “This is a great honour, one that I am very grateful and fortunate to receive! I certainly didn’t win this award on my own. I wish to thank colleagues and students for their support and feedback since I’ve starting teaching at Robson Hall.”
“It is important to me to continually grow and improve as a teacher to provide a superb education for our students.” – Dr. Virginia Torrie
“My idea of an effective teacher is someone who strikes a balance between fostering the curiosity of her students and communicating material clearly and succinctly,” said Dr. Virginia Torrie upon receiving a 2017 Merit Award for teaching. Torrie, who joined the Faculty of Law in 2015, specializes in Bankruptcy and Insolvency, Corporations and Canadian Legal History.
Torrie uses a variety of teaching methods to reach a range of student learning styles and ensure an excellent experience for law students. Her methods include seeking anonymous student feedback to improve her courses; using real-world examples in lectures; and employing “application exercises” to allow students to apply what they are learning. She concludes each class with an interactive review to solidify learning by using classroom response software. To help students study, she consolidates frequently asked questions and edits them with answers. “As a teacher I aim to synthesize and contextualize material in an imaginative and structured way,” she said. “I supplement this approach with questions and exercises to prompt students to think about and apply what they are learning.”
Torrie encourages students to ask questions outside of the classroom by email or in person. “If students are uncertain about the material, or struggling,” she said, “I want them to feel free to get clarification right away.”
Torrie continually engages in professional development, attending the Canadian Association of Law Teachers Conference, and workshops through the University of Manitoba’s Centre for the Advancement of Teaching and Learning (CATL). In 2017 she won the Faculty of Law’s Barney Sneiderman Award for Teaching Excellence, and earlier in 2018, facilitated a seminar with CATL on “Promoting Classroom Engagement.”
“I am truly honoured to receive a Merit Award for Teaching,” she said. “I echo Bruce’s comment that I certainly didn’t win this on my own!” Torrie likewise thanks her students and colleagues for their support and feedback.
“It’s very rewarding directing my research, teaching and service activities to the same ends.” – Dr. Donn Short
Dr. Short, whose Merit Award is for a combination of research, teaching and service, is the Associate Dean of Research and Graduate Studies and Executive Director of the Legal Research Institute at Robson Hall. He is the founder and Editor-in-Chief of the Canadian Journal of Human Rights. Last fall, he won the inaugural Aaron Berg Award, presented by the Canadian Human Rights Commission, the Manitoba Human Rights Commission and the Manitoba Association for Rights and Liberties for his significant contributions for the advancement of Human Rights in Manitoba. In 2016, Dr. Short was the winner of the Rh Institute Foundation Award for Outstanding Contributions to Scholarship and Research in the Social Sciences at the University of Manitoba.
A prolific researcher and writer who has published two books dealing with bullying and safe schools (Don’t Be So Gay: Queers, Bullying, and Making Schools Safe, and Am I Safe Here? LGBTQ Teens and Bullying in Schools), Short has also written a number of dramatic works dealing with themes of youth and youth violence. In the Canadian writing community, he is committed to the rights of artists and is a member of PEN Canada, the Writers Union of Canada, the Playwrights Guild of Canada, the Manitoba Association of Playwrights and the Manitoba Writers Guild. For three years, Dr. Short served on the Board of Commissioners of the Manitoba Human Rights Commission.
“The best part of being in academia is being able to choose how you engage, how you contribute, what you do day to day,” he said. “If I never won an award,” he added, “it’s very rewarding directing my research, teaching and service activities to the same ends. Even without thinking about it consciously, everything connects and that is very satisfying. Recognition by others for what I am happy to do without anyone noticing is extra.”