The 2019–2020 MSU Teaching Award Recipients

MSU Macademics
8 min readOct 26, 2020

The MSU Teaching Awards are an opportunity to celebrate teaching excellence at McMaster University. Nomination periods for the awards take place during both the fall and winter semesters, and traditionally, a formal ceremony is held at the end of the year. Unfortunately, due to COVID-19, the Macademics team was unable to host an in-person ceremony in April to recognize all the outstanding winners from the 2019–2020 year. That being said, we would like to celebrate these educators now as we head into the Fall 2020–2021 Teaching Awards nomination period.

The fall nomination period for this year’s MSU Teaching Awards is October 26th-November 7th.

Nominate a PROFESSOR here:

Nominate a TA here:

Without further ado, please enjoy this special-edition blog post with statements from the 2019–2020 MSU Teaching Award winners!

Nomination-Based Awards


Arts and Science: John Maclachlan

“The most rewarding aspects of teaching for me are the conversations I get to have with the students; something that has never been more difficult in the current pandemic climate. The true value of discussion for me is how much I learn. We all have our own points of view that have been formed through our personal experiences and discussion. I have always found the discussions expand my understanding of the topic at hand and that not only helps me become a better teacher, it helps me grow as someone working in academia.”

DeGroote School of Business: Ken Li

“The 2019–2020 academic year was not only my first year at McMaster — it was also my very first year of being a prof and teaching a class! And so I am incredibly honoured to have received this award — it is such a warm welcome for me at McMaster. I’ve learned an incredible amount from my students about how to teach, and I look forward to improving my teaching every year to deliver content that is more engaging, interesting, and useful!”

Department of Kinesiology: Trevor King

“My favorite part of teaching is working with my students to learn new things! I love when students ask me questions that I don’t know the answer to because this gives me an excuse to research, learn, and share something new. Mac students are incredibly bright, and sharing my love of learning with my students is exceptionally rewarding and exciting. I am frequently impressed with the insightful connection that the students make; I love seeing students applying and extending what they’ve learned to different and unique situations!”

Faculty of Engineering: Matthew Minnick

“ENGPHYS 2CM4 grew out of a need I felt was there in the undergrad program since I took it myself — how do you combine information from different courses, mathematically model real-world problems when every topic could be relevant, solve them with the best tools possible, and make real meaning of the results? I’m thrilled that our students embraced vision and appreciated the inaugural 2CM4 and its delivery to the point of awarding me the MSU Teaching Award in 2019–20, and hope I can do justice to this in all courses to come!”

Faculty of Health Sciences: Caitlin Mullarkey

Here are some comments from Dr. Mullarkey’s students:

“Dr. Mullarkey is very passionate about her teaching of immunology. She designed the course in a very pragmatic and PBL-based learning, which in turn allows students to truly understand the topics being presented. She is also extremely effective at challenging students with questions and this allows them to really apply the knowledge acquired in the course.”

“Dr. Mullarkey is truly passionate about what she teaches and it shows during her classes. She made complex courses like virology be enjoyable and comprehensive. Instead of having us memorize details, she provided us with tools to approach any virus and make judgement calls based on our knowledge; an application based style of teaching which was quite effective.”

Faculty of Humanities: James Sikkema

“‘A philosophical problem has the form: I don’t know my way about.’ Wittgenstein said that. This is equal parts unsettling and promising. Unsettling because embarking on philosophical investigations unmoors us from our presuppositions, our prejudices, our highly structured worldviews; in a word, we become perplexed. Though unsettling, perplexity is also promising. Promising because it is by means of this perplexity that we become aware of our pretenses to knowledge, and strive for greater understanding — of ourselves, the world, our place in it, and how we should live. And yet I, along with Socrates I must admit that “I do not cause perplexity in others while free of perplexity myself.” So, I humbly submit that I only teach others how to encounter problems, how to think through the perplexity they cause, and how to strive for greater understanding by means of this perplexity. I didn’t know one could receive an award for doing so, but am happy to humbly accept it. Thank you to my students, my co-inquirers, for your support.”

School of Nursing: Elaine Shuhaibar

“Thank you very much for this amazing award! I am truly grateful to all the students who nominated me. It has been my pleasure and privilege to be involved with the nursing students. I love my job because it affords me the opportunity to get to know students not only academically but also on a more personal level — to understand their passions, their dreams, and their anxieties. What gives me the greatest sense of satisfaction and makes my job all the more meaningful is when I get to see the smile on their faces and their more relaxed demeanor after working hard together to master a variety of clinical skills. Witnessing their progress and accomplishments is my reward.”

Faculty of Science: Josie Libertucci

Here are some comments from Dr. Libertucci’s students:

“Dr. Libertucci genuinely cares about her students and helps them gain confidence in their academic capabilities. She is an amazing professor and I am so glad I got the opportunity to take a course with her!”

“She always wants to help out her students and is invested in their success in academics and outside of academics. She asks us about our future goals and wants to help us reach them. She makes class engaging and fun and makes everyone comfortable. The environment of the classroom is something I look forward to every week.”

Faculty of Social Sciences: Rebecca Gilmour

“When I was an undergrad, my favourite instructors always made content memorable, either through a story or maybe a hands-on exercise. I’ve since learned that a lot of the fun we have in my anthropology classes has to do with students’ brilliant ideas, activities, and approaches. While I’ll keep dreaming up fictional forensic cases to puzzle and using diverse mediums to draw and sculpt skeletal anatomy, I want to encourage students (especially in this remote-learning year) to keep being creative, resilient, and adaptable. These traits will serve you well! Thank you for the MSU Teaching Award for Social Sciences (2019–2020)!”

Teaching Assistant Merit Award

Ahmednur Ali

Twitter: @mrahmednurali

“One of my favourite things about teaching is seeing a student’s potential before they do and helping them to see it too.”

Eric Desjardins

Here are some comments from student evaluations:

“Eric is an amazing educator who is kind, respectful and knowledgeable. He helps the students understand the material and is always open to answer questions. Eric creates a positive learning environment which promotes better knowledge and understanding of the material covered. He gives constructive feedback to students in order to enhance student performance outcomes.”

“Eric is a huge advocate for his students. He is approachable and is able to help students understand the content in order to do well in difficult courses.”

Application-Based Awards

MSU Merit Award: Christina Vani

“This award serves as a reminder to offer my very best to students; teaching first- and second-year undergrads is a great privilege that I do not take lightly, especially during a pandemic, when stability, clarity, and perhaps even enjoyment are hard to find. I cherish the curious questions that teach both the student and me, the e-mails sent months later about a trip to Italy in which a student successfully communicated in Italian. In language-learning, students build meta- and sociolinguistic knowledge, but they also build self-compassion and cultural understanding — and I am infinitely grateful to be part of this journey.”

MSU Community Engagement Award: CityLab Team Semester in Residence Teaching Team

Brian Baetz and his field guide Sunny on the edge of the Spencer Gorge in Dundas, with CityLAB Semester in Residence Students

“One of my all-time career highlights was the opportunity to teach the Design component of the 2019–20 CityLAB Semester-in Residence. The students were absolutely amazing — -engaged, considerate, passionate and hard-working. I learned a lot from this group about the nuances of community engagement, and from their desire to make Hamilton a more livable and interesting place. The semester was also tremendous because of my teaching team colleagues — Dave Heidebrecht, Anna Marie Pietrantonio and the ever-popular CityDAD, Randy Kay. And many thanks also to this year’s students who are showing tremendous grit and resilience under challenging circumstances.” — Dr. Brian Baetz

MSU Community Engagement Award: Elizabeth Weretilnyk

Ontario Undergraduate Student Alliance (OUSA) Award: Behrouz Bakhtiari

“I chose to become a professor because I believe teaching young minds about what I am passionate about, and to walk along with them in their path to become independent and critical thinkers, is one of the most meaningful and purposeful activities in the world. I am truly honoured to receive this award.”

MSU Innovation Award: The BioBlend Team

BioBlend Team Members: Robin Cameron, Alison Cowie, Rosa da Silva, Kim Dej, Lovaye Kajiura, Alastair Tracey, Joanna Wilson

TA of the Year: Ritchie Ly

“Some of the most rewarding experiences I’ve had during my time here at McMaster are when I was a TA and mentor for students. Having a hand in helping someone better understand a theory or concept and watching them successfully apply it is a super fulfilling experience! I’m constantly driven by my students to see how I can better communicate and be a positive role model to make learning just as rewarding for them.”

Thank you to all the professors and TAs who provided their statements for this blog post. We sincerely appreciate your contribution and your dedication to teaching and learning.



MSU Macademics

MSU Macademics is a service that advocates to improve the quality of education and celebrate teaching excellence at McMaster.