Jessica D'eon and Alistair Dias receive Outstanding Teaching Awards

July 27, 2020 by Arts & Science News

Professor Jessica D'eon and alumnus Alistair Dias have both been honoured with a 2020 Faculty of Arts & Science Outstanding Teaching Award. These awards recognize teaching excellence in undergraduate and graduate education with a focus on classroom instruction and course design and/or curriculum development.

D'eon, who is also an alumna of the department, regularly teaches a large first-year chemistry class along with specialized upper-year courses in environmental chemistry.

Students will often remark on her enthusiasm, kindness and openness, all of which “create a calm learning environment where one does not feel afraid to ask questions or ask for help.” 

Employing project-based and participatory learning techniques, D’eon shows students that chemistry need not be a solitary discipline but can be studied as part of larger contexts and networks. For example, she asks students to simulate the role of a scientific advisor to a delegation of legislators; and she leads a course that facilitates knowledge exchange between chemistry and engineering students.

Outside of the classroom, D’eon works with the School of the Environment’s undergraduate program and regularly participates in conferences and symposia on chemistry education. She is a key contributor to curriculum renewal and design and boasts consistently stellar course evaluations and strong enrolment numbers. D’eon works with students at all levels, from high school summer researchers to graduate students and postdoctoral fellows, and always elicits exceptionally high praise from her mentees.

Dias completed his PhD in the Zamble Group and is now associate professor, teaching stream in the Human Biology program. He teaches lab courses in human biology, genetics and health and disease while also introducing students to integrative medicine and the biology of metals in seminar based upper level courses. His enthusiastic, approachable, student-focused manner makes students “feel like more than numbers in a large institution.”

Student feedback has regularly highlighted Dias’s successful integration of critical-thinking exercises, practical examples, participatory learning and multimedia tools to foster student engagement and learning.

Dias’s pedagogical approach is based on evolving research and scholarship on teaching and learning, reflected in his essential ongoing contributions to the program’s curriculum, including key updates and modernization to pivotal upper-year lab courses. This work on pre-lab videos and lab manuals to prepare students for lab work has been so successful that other departments have adopted it.

In addition to his work in the classroom, Dias has taken on active mentorship of teaching assistants, resulting in increased TA confidence and skill, as well as widespread TA training practices across the program. He has also been involved in the program’s First Year and Second Year Learning Communities — small support groups of students that meet for academic and social activities. Dias is lauded as not only an effective educator but a professor who genuinely and compassionately cares for his students.