Laurier Celebrates Teaching Excellence

Laurier celebrates teaching excellence with Donald F. Morgenson Awards for Teaching Excellence

Wilfrid Laurier University is recognizing seven instructors and learning professionals who’ve made a significant commitment to elevating students’ educational experiences and inspiring fellow educators. 

The Donald F. Morgenson Faculty Awards for Teaching Excellence, Laurier’s most prestigious teaching awards program, was named in memory of Laurier Professor Emeritus Donald Morgenson, a longtime faculty member who passed away in 2017.

The recipients of Laurier’s 2022 Donald F. Morgenson Faculty Awards for Teaching Excellence are:
Kevin Spooner

Sustained Excellence: Kevin Spooner

Associate Professor, History and North American Studies

During his 17 years at Laurier, Kevin Spooner, associate professor in History and North American Studies and the director of the Laurier Centre for the Study of Canada, has consistently put student-centred learning at the heart of his work. 

This approach to teaching and learning drove his pioneering use of the flipped classroom model at Laurier, where students learn new content at home, including readings and video content, and use class time for discussions, presentations and debates that deepen understanding. Through this approach, students learn to work independently and take responsibility for their learning.

With his experience creating online content, including pre-recorded lectures, Spooner was able to mentor fellow faculty members moving to remote learning during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Spooner also worked to increase experiential learning activities for students, applying for and receiving North American Mobility in Higher Education funding with Professor Lucy Luccisano, which allowed student exchanges and faculty movement between six universities in Canada, Mexico and the United States. A successful application to the 100,000 Strong in the Americas Innovation Fund also created a bilateral exchange program for Indigenous students with the University of Syracuse. 

Spooner has also been a leader in incorporating diversity and Indigeneity into the curriculum, including in the initial development and later administration of the North American Studies program. In 2014, he led the renewal of the program’s curriculum to further centre Indigenous perspectives, cultures and knowledges, in consultation with Laurier’s Office of Indigenous Initiatives.

“Student-centred learning is best achieved when curriculum design is thoughtfully aligned. Mentoring is yet another important teaching practice that demonstrates the value of student-centred learning. Finally, learning beyond the classroom – through various forms of experiential learning – creates transformative opportunities for student development. My practice as a university educator has very much centred on these means to achieve student-centred learning.”

–Kevin Spooner

Early Career Excellence (full-time): Jennifer Holm

Assistant Professor, Faculty of Education

As the only mathematics education specialist in Laurier’s Faculty of Education, Assistant Professor Jennifer Holm has a direct impact on how the next generation of teachers will teach mathematics in schools across Ontario. Holm is driven to increase math literacy, make math more accessible and shift negative perceptions about math among teachers and students.

In her seminar courses, Holm encourages Bachelor of Education teacher candidates to look beyond traditional math training, which tends to focus on memorizing facts and formulas, to an approach that emphasizes active, experiential learning. Most students enter her courses feeling stressed about the prospect of teaching math and leave with confidence in their ability to teach it to others.

Though Holm has a full teaching schedule and is a leading researcher in mathematics education — with more than 80 journal publications, proceedings, presentations, books and book chapters on the subject — she still volunteers her time on more than a dozen committees within the Faculty of Education, serves as coordinator for the Bachelor of Education and Minor in Education programs and often provides support to educators and educators-in-training, both formally and informally. When the Ontario government announced the mandatory Mathematics Proficiency Test for teacher candidates in 2019, Holm provided training sessions, practice tests and countless one-on-one tutoring sessions to support teacher candidates, the overwhelming majority of whom excelled on the test.

Outside of Laurier, Holm has led workshops for local school boards in mathematics education and often speaks at events, including at the University of Toronto’s Fields Institute for Research in Mathematical Sciences and the Mathematics Educational Research Unit at the University of Ottawa. She also regularly contributes a column to the Ontario Mathematics Gazette, a key publication for mathematics teachers in Ontario.

“It is an honour to be recognized with this teaching award,” she says. “I am grateful to my colleagues and students who helped put together this nomination package. I want to thank all of my mentors and the teacher candidates I have worked with in my career, who have also taught me so much about what it means to teach mathematics to make it accessible for all.”

Jennifer Holm
Colin Labadie

Early Career Excellence (part-time): Colin Labadie

Instructor, Faculty of Music

In his five years teaching in Laurier’s Faculty of Music, instructor Colin Labadie has earned respect and admiration for his accessible and inclusive approach to student-centred learning and commitment to incorporating equity, diversity and inclusion into his teaching practices and music education.

He is beloved among students and consistently receives outstanding scores on course evaluations for his engaging, compassionate and respectful approach, as well as his willingness to go the extra mile for students.

In his nomination package, faculty colleagues described “his ability to respond to the needs of each student, while adhering to a rigorous and thorough curriculum” and his “ability to be sensitive to individuals while maintaining a wonderful sense of the group.” Likewise, students highlighted that he “is truly an inspiration and a leader by example.”

In 2019, Labadie launched a bootcamp unit for his first-year Foundations of Popular and Commercial Music class to help students improve their knowledge of music theory. Since then, he’s also designed and launched a similar summer music theory program for incoming music students through the Beckett School at Laurier.

During the 2020-21 academic year, Labadie was trusted to coordinate both the Composition and Integrated Musical Arts concentrations and oversee their curricula, as well as to contribute to the future direction of the programs through the Faculty of Music cyclical review. Among the goals he laid out for both programs was a greater commitment to focusing on the music and knowledge of BIPOC composers and performers, which he’s made a priority in his own studio and classroom-based courses.

Innovation in Teaching: Michelle Skop

Assistant Professor, Faculty of Social Work

Michelle Skop, an assistant professor in the Faculty of Social Work, is committed to finding the best tools and approaches to meet her students’ needs and learning objectives.

By following pedagogical research and evolving best practices in higher education, as well as drawing from her own experiences as a social worker, she has developed innovative ways for students to immerse themselves in course material, including through visual arts, music, mindfulness and movement.

After hearing from Social Work students who wanted to develop their communication skills for upcoming field placements, she introduced simulation-based learning, through which students could practice interviewing skills with a trained actor role playing a client.

In another course, Skop brought together 17 Brantford-area healthcare providers, service users and students to collaborate on all aspects of the curriculum, from learning objectives to readings and assignments, to connect students directly to the community's health-related needs.

Skop has also been a mentor to fellow faculty members on the topic of inclusion in remote learning. She developed resources for faculty members and facilitated 14 sessions related to student engagement, adapting assessments and new technologies.

Michelle Skop

“I am extremely honoured and overjoyed to receive the Donald F. Morgenson Award for Teaching Excellence in the category of Innovation in Teaching. I am grateful to work with such dedicated colleagues, students and community members who have nourished my thinking and who have collaborated with me on the co-development of innovative teaching practices over the past six years. I am committed to taking a relational, inclusive and creative approach to teaching and to building experiential learning opportunities, which support our Laurier Social Work students in developing and honing their critical skills for direct social work practice.”

–Michelle Skop


Faculty Mentoring: Paula Fletcher

Professor, Kinesiology and Physical Education

Throughout her 25 years at Laurier, Paula Fletcher, a professor in the Department of Kinesiology and Physical Education, has been a caring and dedicated mentor and passionate advocate for students, in her roles as undergraduate and graduate coordinator within Kinesiology and Physical Education, and currently as associate dean of the Faculty of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies.

Fletcher strives to develop close relationships with every student she mentors, from undergraduates to those pursuing their PhDs. She inspires and challenges them to think critically, work independently and continuously grow, while also emphasizing the importance of self-care and time away from work.

“It is of utmost importance as a mentor to provide my students with roots and wings – a solid research and personal foundation and the courage to spread their wings and fly after their time in my lab and at Laurier,” she says. “I am honoured to receive this mentorship award. Mentoring undergraduate and graduate students is a privilege for me, and by far the most rewarding aspect of being a professor.”

Fletcher has supervised 49 undergraduate theses, 18 master’s theses, and two doctoral dissertations on topics ranging from the experiences of pediatric cancer survivors to the challenges facing families of children on the autism spectrum. She has also published 49 journal articles with her students. Many of her former students subsequently pursued careers in academia or in related health fields, including occupational therapy and medicine.

Fletcher has raised the level of mentoring across the university by assisting with the development of a teaching assistant mentorship module, as well as developing a learning module focusing on best practices in mentoring for graduate students.

Hoffman-Little Award: Michael Cinelli

Professor, Kinesiology and Physical Education

The material in Michael Cinelli’s anatomy courses can be challenging for many students to grasp, so the professor of Kinesiology and Physical Education continuously searches for new ways to help his students absorb and apply their knowledge.

To learn anatomy, students are asked to find body parts on themselves, on videos of cadavers or using Laurier’s two realistic synthetic cadavers, which Cinelli helped Laurier acquire, the first university in Canada to do so. Cinelli also brings in his own research and uses case studies, asking students how a body would move with a specific injury, for instance, to illustrate concepts and show the practical use of the information they’ve learned.

The pandemic presented a particularly big challenge for Cinelli. Without access to hands-on learning, he researched and experimented with new strategies to keep students engaged. He also connected with anatomy educators across Canada to share ideas. He found success in his second-year Human Anatomy course by using a flipped classroom model, where students were provided with pre-recorded lectures in advance and class time was spent discussing case studies and going over supplementary information.

In his 13 years at Laurier, Cinelli has used his teaching skills to develop four new courses and redesign every other course he’s taught. He also joined the Kinesiology and Physical Education curriculum committee in restructuring the undergraduate program to better showcase faculty members’ strengths and meet student needs.

For many students, both undergraduate and graduate, Cinelli has also proved to be a valued supervisor and mentor, helping them publish articles, gain funding, present at national and international conferences and establish themselves in their careers.

Michael Cinelli

“I am so thankful to be recognized with the 2022 Hoffman-Little Award. I am privileged to be able to do something that I love every day. For me, it’s a hobby, not a job. I am motivated by finding new ways to inspire our students to become passionate about what they are learning in the classroom and in the research lab. As a student, I was fortunate to be influenced by some great professors who left positive lasting impressions and I hope that I can do the same for my students as well.”

–Michael Cinelli

lydia awuah-mensah

Staff Award for Excellence in Teaching and Learning: Lydia Awuah-Mensah

Program Coordinator, Career Development Centre

In her five years at Laurier, Lydia Awuah-Mensah, a program coordinator in the Career Development Centre, has helped more than 10,000 Laurier students reflect and articulate their experiences inside and outside the classroom for their future careers.

Awuah-Mensah designed the Career-Integrated Learning Program, which helps students reflect on the competencies they develop in the classroom and how these connect to the workplace, in 2017 and the Non-Profit Sector Experiential certificate, which helps students connect volunteerism to their personal and professional development goals, in 2019. She’s been the primary facilitator for both programs since they were launched, providing support to undergraduate and graduate students studying in all years and disciplines, from small seminar courses to classes of hundreds. Under her leadership, both programs continue to grow and Awuah-Mensah’s reputation for superior program development and delivery grows alongside them.

In the classroom, Awuah-Mensah’s professionalism, care, energy and lived experiences inspire and motivate students. Emphasizing her role as a facilitator rather than teacher, she works to establish trust and connection, so students feel comfortable sharing their knowledge and ideas. Different perspectives, backgrounds and experiences are celebrated. She also encourages students to take an active, reflective role in their learning and to keep their professional and educational goals in mind throughout their academic journeys. 

“I am honoured to have been selected to receive the 2022 Staff Award for Excellence in Teaching and Learning,” says Awuah-Mensah. “I would like to thank my nominators and managers who have supported me to do the valuable work that I do, as well as faculty and colleagues for the collaborative efforts that continue to inform and enhance my work. My hope is to continue to positively inspire and use my experiences to promote active student engagement, celebrate diversity in the classroom and enrich student learning.”