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University of Otago staff honoured for teaching excellence

University of Otago staff honoured for teaching excellence

Enthusiasm and passion in teaching their areas of expertise has resulted in four staff members being honoured in the University of Otago’s annual Teaching Excellence Awards.

The winners are: Faumuina Associate Professor Fa’afetai Sopoaga, Centre for Pacific Health, Va’a o Tautai, Division of Health Sciences; Associate Professor Sheila Skeaff from Human Nutrition, Dr Kristin Hillman from Psychology and Dr Rebecca Bird from Anatomy. They will receive their awards at a special ceremony at the Reception Room in the University of Otago’s Clock tower on Tuesday, 6 March at 3.30pm.

Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Academic) Professor Vernon Squire says the Teaching Excellence Awards ceremony is an opportunity for the University to honour some of its very best teachers.

“Two ambitions define great Universities – to be excellent in teaching and to be excellent in research. Otago University aspires to achieve both goals by motivating, encouraging and rewarding excellence,” Professor Squire says.

“We have a proud tradition of having many outstanding teachers for every subject area imaginable, but the four teachers who have won awards this year join a select group of our very best educators whose remarkable accomplishments in learning and teaching place them in the company of the best in the world.”

The awards have been an annual event since 2002. To be considered for an award teachers must send in formal applications that include letters of recommendation from other staff and students. Winners receive a certificate and $10,000 each to support their learning and teaching.

Award convenor Associate Professor Clinton Golding, acting head of the Higher Education Development Centre, says the candidates are judged on five criteria: their planning and design for learning, their ability to facilitate learning, to assess student learning, to evaluate learning and teaching – including reflecting on and improving their teaching and on professional development and leadership in teaching.

“It’s a real privilege to hear about awesome teachers doing awesome work,” Associate Professor Golding says.

For Associate Professor Sopoaga it has been a long journey from when she arrived in New Zealand, a self-described “bright-eyed and bushy-haired girl” from Samoa to train in medicine in the 1980s. Not only did she qualify as a doctor, but she has gone on to help lead Pacific content in the University of Otago’s medical curriculum.

She has been recognised for inspiring and enabling students to learn how they can contribute to improving health outcomes for Pacifc people in New Zealand and the Pacific region.

Associate Professor Sopoaga says she is delighted the value and importance of the Pacific health curriculum for student learning is being highlighted.

“This is really about our families and communities and I wish to acknowledge them. They have contributed generously of their time and energy to ensure students’ learning is meaningful.” she says.

Psychology lecturer Kristin Hillman is an award winner for her ability to combine neuroscience and psychology in a way that scientifically engages students and challenges them to better understand themselves and others.

Since beginning teaching in the Department of Psychology in 2011, Dr Hillman has developed three papers on very different topics which have all received outstanding evaluation marks year-after-year.

Dr Hillman says she is honoured to receive the award and for the opportunity to showcase excellent teaching as the vast majority of students attend the university to be taught well.

Dr Bird, a teaching fellow within the Department of Anatomy, is described as a teacher who cultivates an inclusive student-centric learning environment. She has been recognised for her ability to enable students of all abilities to engage, discover and reach their potential in science.

One of the most rewarding parts of her job is helping Māori students achieve in science and health science through tutoring at Te Huka Matauraka Māori Centre and as Kaiāwhina Māori for Anatomy, Dr Bird says.

“I love seeing my students achieve their dreams, so when any of the students I teach get into a course they’ve always wanted to do, or find an area of human biology that interests them, I’m proud to have been a part of their journey.”

Teaching and helping students learn about nutrition has been what Associate Professor Sheila Skeaff considers the most enjoyable part of her university career in 27 years of teaching in the Department of Human Nutrition.

Her ability to inspire students to learn about nutrition and develop skills that positively influence life-long health has earned Associate Professor Skeaff an award.

“Teaching nutrition does not begin and end in words, rather it has the potential to positively influence the lifelong health of the student,” she says.


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