Best in class
Even though Jason Peeler teaches anatomy, and Sarah Ciurysek teaches art, these two award-winning associate professors share a lot in common.
They both care deeply about their students’ well-being. They genuinely want their students to succeed. And when the pandemic struck, they made sure the learning experience continued to be engaging as ever for their students.
“I’m pretty darn passionate about my teaching and interactions with my students. I see it as a way to influence the next generation of scientists, practitioners and physicians,” says Peeler, associate professor in the department of human anatomy and cell science of the Max Rady College of Medicine, Rady Faculty of Health Sciences, and recipient of the 2021 Dr. and Mrs. H.H. Saunderson Award for Excellence in Teaching.
The Saunderson Award recognizes an educator at the University of Manitoba who has excelled at teaching for more than 10 years, and has made significant educational contributions at the national or international level.
Peeler was nominated by the head of his department, Sabine Hombach-Klonisch. She has been a colleague of Peeler’s since he joined the faculty 12 years ago, after working for several years as a certified athletic therapist in a university setting and in the Olympic movement. At that time, Peeler was the only non-physician serving as a course director in the medical program, helping to lead the way to more teaching diversity for medical students.
Since then, Peeler has published his musculoskeletal anatomy and sports medicine based research internationally, as well as helped to lead the development of educational accreditation standards for university athletic therapy programs across the country. He’s also been nominated multiple times by medical students for annual teaching awards offered through the Manitoba Medical Students’ Association, winning twice.
“I take great pride in the type of educator that I am. Beyond academics, I’m concerned about my students as people and that they are going to make positive contributions to society. I try to lead by example. I show them the importance of teamwork and accountability. As a course director, I’m accountable to them and their success as students–I haven’t really taught unless my students have learned.”
“I take great pride in the type of educator that I am. Beyond academics, I’m concerned about my students as people and that they are going to make positive contributions to society.”
Peeler also teaches anatomy to biomedical engineering, physical therapy and pharmacy students. When the pandemic struck, Peeler worked to create a relaxed, secure, safe learning environment, putting students at ease so they could engage. An element of teaching anatomy is working with human specimens in-person. As part of UM protocols, he made sure everyone was using the necessary personal protection equipment and also that they had enough instructors for consistent and safe small-group learning.
“I’ve learned the importance of empathy as an educator. I want my students to know that I’m on their side,” says Peeler. “I try to support them to succeed both in school and in their professional lives. Showing my students that I believe in them, that I am there for them–I think that goes a long, long way.”
Sarah Ciurysek is associate director, graduate and research, and associate professor at the School of Art. She is also a working artist, with a focus on photography and exploring our relationship with the ground. Her work has been exhibited across Canada, in the United States, the UK, Austria and in South Africa.
Ciurysek was the recipient for the 2021 Olive Beatrice Stanton Award for Excellence in Teaching, which recognizes a UM educator who has taught here for 10 years or less and has made significant contributions within UM and the Province.
She was nominated by Jean Borbridge, who took three of Ciurysek’s courses during her B.F.A., before graduating in 2017. Borbridge now works as a visual artist and as the education coordinator for the University of Manitoba School of Art Gallery.
“Sarah (Ciurysek) is incredibly warm and generous with all of her knowledge, and creates an amazing, safe environment to learn and grow,” explains Borbridge. “She creates intimate relationships with all of her students, and also encourages them to connect with each other. There is so much space for discussion and peer-to-peer learning.”
She creates intimate relationships with all of her students, and also encourages them to connect with each other.
When the campus had to shut down because of the COVID-19 pandemic back in March 2020, Ciurysek realized that many of her students would struggle to complete their term projects, because they couldn’t access the school’s facilities.
So, she brought her students together virtually and they decided as a group that they were going to start fresh–creating digital photography projects about how their lives had changed because of the pandemic. They exhibited their work online in partnership with a local gallery, PLATFORM Centre for Photographic and Digital Arts and Digital Arts, and she held an online reception for the class, where they “had their wine and toasted one another.”
“This last pandemic year has shown me all over again how much the relationships in a course matter,” she says. “I’m grateful to have had concentrated time to meet with students one-on-one online, and also for small groups to have met outdoors in my land-based art course. Discussions about students’ projects, fears, and plans, have been mutually stimulating at the same time as comforting and buoying.”
In Fall 2020, Ciurysek took an outdoor art class she had originally run the year before at the FortWhyte Alive outdoor nature centre and adapted it to the pandemic. She split the class of 16 into two smaller cohorts in order to maintain physical distancing if the group had to move indoors in case of any inclement weather. One of their assignments was to make art with natural materials, integrating a “leave no trace” philosophy. For example, one student had others walking blind-folded through a forest path.
According to Borbridge, “Because experiential learning is so important to Sarah (Ciurysek), she already had experience working outside, where students had more opportunities to be together. I’m just so thrilled that Sarah (Ciurysek) got the recognition she deserved–for really building a community and fostering such beautiful connections.”