Mary Robinson Wins S2018 Teaching Excellence Award! – An Interview and Overview of this Excellent Instructor

The Teaching Excellence Award is awarded to an excellent instructor every semester. They are selected through a nomination period by a committee composed of both VP Academics, two at large council elected members and a representative from the Associate Dean, Teaching. The winning instructor’s nomination(s) must indicated that the instructor has contributed significantly to at least one of the following:


  1. Employed non-conventional teaching techniques
  2. Allowed opportunities for experiential learning
  3. Showed a commitment and dedication towards ensuring academic success for students


Mary’s work as Associate Director of First Year Engineering has put her in a position where she can put her ideas and ideology to action. It was clear from Mary’s nomination and interview  that Mary provides a very welcoming environment to her classes and that she is a physical representation to many students of what it means to be a woman in engineering. Mary also provides a safe classroom experience for LGBT+ students, as well as ensuring that no question, no matter what it is, is responded to with respect and integrity. Please read the interview below to find out more!


What made you want to be an instructor?

Coming from a family of teachers and engineers, the profession was far from unknown for Mary, but it remained in the back of her mind as she progressed through her degree here at Waterloo and made her way into the engineering industry. During a return trip to Waterloo for a Masters, Mary was offered a rare opportunity to instruct CHE102 for the first time, an opportunity that does not come to many grad students. This is where teaching caught hold and since then she has been improving the course and changing the lives of struggling students.


What’s your favourite aspect of being an instructor?

There’s nothing more rewarding, in Mary’s mind, than seeing the progression of her students. “I love seeing that eureka moment went the student just gets it”, Mary said as she described the thrill of helping students understand those tough topics. Mary is definitely not one to stray from developing strong connections with her students, and seeing those students succeed, is all the reward she could ask for.


What makes you passionate about instructing/ what is your favourite part of being a lecturer?

One line explains it all, “I wouldn’t be able to get up in the morning if I didn’t have a class to teach”. Mary’s passion really shines through as she gets more involved through being the associate director of first year engineering, and trying her best to be a role model for all students in engineering. Following in the footsteps of some of her most inspiring role models, Mary works every day towards creating a safe space and inclusive environment for LGBT+ students and aspiring women in engineering.


Have you felt that you’ve made a large impact on a specific class or student?

Mary’s care for her students is extremely evident in everything she does, especially in creating a safe and inclusive environment for which she can help her students with any issues they may be struggling with, both inside and outside the classroom. “I wouldn’t do it if it weren’t for the students”, she said as she described her experiences with teaching CHE102 more than twenty times. Mary described how the students always manage to keep the process fun and interesting as she takes new feedback each term to improve the course.


What do you think is the most important aspect or quality of a good lecturer?

Organization is the key, most students tend to miss the work that goes into teaching a course before even setting foot in a lecture hall. Just as in engineering, it is very difficult to get perfection, and it is so important to keep trying to get better. Mary is always reading up on new studies and data to help her students in any way possible, especially in teaching the reduced course load students.


If you were a shape, which shape would you be and why?

To conclude the interview what better than a fun engineering question. Mary’s response was actually quite fitting. Mary said her favourite shape is a sphere, because it is round and has no pokey corners. This can actually be connected to a study (fairly small study) completed by Dr. Susan Dellinger surrounding the “shape personality test”. This study reveals that the circle represents someone who is very personable, caring, and tend to be very well spoken and nurturing; perfect qualities for an instructor.


If you have any questions about the Teaching Excellence Award, please feel free to reach out to Benjamin Beelen at vpacademic@engsoc.uwaterloo.ca, and come to council meeting 1 in January 2019 to get elected to the next student at large position for the W19 Teaching Excellence Award!

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