Sept. 25, 2017

Four exceptional instructors named Killam research and teaching laureates

Profs share a passion for research, creating an exceptional learning environment
The 2017 Killam Research and Teaching Award Winners, from left: Laleh Behjat, Schulich School of Engineering; Ron Hugo, Schulich School of Engineering; Susan Graham, Cumming School of Medicine and the Hotchkiss Brain Institute; and Mayi Arcellana-Panlilio, Cumming School of Medicine and the Arnie Charbenneau Cancer Centre.

From left: Laleh Behjat, Ron Hugo, Susan Graham, and Mayi Arcellana-Panlilio.

Mark Skogen for the Faculty of Graduate Studies

Full of energy and enthusiasm, Laleh Behjat sings the praises of the talented and hard-working graduate students at the University of Calgary. Describing them as the best of the best, Behjat says they are in fact the engine that drives the whole institution.

That’s high praise so it’s no wonder Behjat, a professor in the Schulich School of Engineering, has been recognized for her commitment to those graduate students as a mentor and supervisor, joining three other accomplished UCalgary professors receiving the prestigious Killam Research and Teaching Awards this year.

In addition to Behjat, this year’s award winners include the Cumming School of Medicine’s Mayi Arcellana-Panlilio, Ron Hugo from the Schulich School of Engineering, and Susan Graham from the Faculty of Arts and the Owerko Centre.

Each has given considerable thought to research, teaching and learning. Arcellana-Panlilio takes great pride in mentoring the undergraduate iGEM teams; Hugo takes seriously his responsibility to create an environment conducive to project-based learning; Behjat has reworked a professional development course to offer job interview and communications skills; and Graham has demonstrated a deep commitment to researching language and cognitive development in the very young. See their personal insights below.

Killam Research and Teaching Awards

Ron Hugo is a professor in the Department of Mechanical and Manufacturing Engineering and Li Ka Shing Foundation Chair in Engineering Education Innovation. His research interests involve the development of optical tomography measurement systems for the investigation of multiphase pipe flow. Teaching insights:

At the most fundamental level, an effective instructor organizes content, presents it in a clear manner, offers practice activities, and provides timely feedback.

At the same time, it is the student’s responsibility to learn, recognizing that the process can be frustrating and time-consuming.

Nobel Laureate Herbert A. Simon effectively summarizes the student’s responsibility by writing: “Learning results from what the student does and thinks and only from what the student does and thinks. The teacher can advance learning only by influencing what the student does to learn.” 

In other words, students need more than a sage on the stage. They need someone who is able to construct challenging yet engaging learning pathways and an environment that motivates students to go beyond memorization, moving them towards deep learning.

Laleh Behjat is a professor in electrical and computer engineering. Her main research is on developing algorithms and tools for improving the design of integrated circuits. Teaching insights:

Technically our students are very good, but sometimes we forget to teach the other skills they also need to learn that will set them apart later on their career. To address that gap, I set out to overhaul our professional development course to ensure the next generation of graduate students have the communication skills, the writing, presentations, and competencies for job interviews.

A very big focus for me is increasing diversity, because a diverse team leads to a better more efficient team, and a better product. I believe I don’t have a monopoly of good ideas. I might have one or two good ideas, but if I work with talented people, I can put their ideas together with mine to make them into awesome ideas.

Mayi Arcellana-Panlilio is a senior instructor in the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology in the Cumming School of Medicine and member of the university’s Arnie Charbonneau Cancer Institute. She leads the university’s International Genetically Engineered Machines (iGEM) team, an interdisciplinary group of undergraduate students who develop a synthetic biology project from concept to execution and then present it at an international competition in Boston each fall. Teaching insights:

I consider the courses I teach as integral to a student’s education and preparation for being out in the world. Thus, I emphasize building upon what students already know, expanding and strengthening basic knowledge, understanding how new information might fit into, or rock a paradigm.

I have always believed that teaching must include mentorship, in the sense of giving counsel and guidance so that students grow up to be thinking, responsible individuals, who have what they need to pursue their dreams. Directing students to research opportunities and supervising students as they embark on research projects are a large part of that mentorship.

Teaching’s reason for being is learning, so its energies are well spent if it focuses on providing the best environment for learning.  Defining that best environment is an ongoing process that at times will blur the roles of teacher and student, as learning proves to be multi-directional. It is worth teaching well because then learning continues well past the last day of class, it becomes a habit of mind, a practice of life.

Susan Graham is the director of the Owerko Centre at the Alberta Children’s Hospital Research Institute, a member of the Hotchkiss Brain Institute, and a professor in the Department of Psychology. Her research program focuses on understanding language and cognitive development during the infancy and preschool years. Teaching insights:

My research program focuses on child development during the infancy and preschool years. One of the greatest impediments to early identification and intervention for language, cognitive and social difficulties has been the challenge in understanding of how typical development unfolds.

In Canada, nearly 30 per cent of children between the ages of zero to six have a social, emotional or learning problem significant enough to require intervention. Recent data from Alberta indicates that 25 per cent of kindergarten children have difficulty in at least one of five key developmental domains.

These early-emerging issues have cascading effects over development. For example, language learning problems are associated with poor outcomes in academic achievement, reading, social development, and self-esteem, and being bullied or victimized. For this reason, it is critical for us to understand what typical development looks like, so we can detect when children start to diverge from this pathway.

The Killam Trusts have played a remarkable role in fostering research innovation at the University of Calgary and I am deeply honoured to have received the 2017 Killam Research Excellence Award.

The Killam Trusts

The Killam Trusts support top-ranked Canadian post-secondary students and professors who are making exceptional contributions to society. The Killam Research and Teaching Awards honour outstanding teaching, supervision, and research at the University of Calgary.

Prominent Canadian businessman Izaak Walton Killam and his wife Dorothy J. Killam established the Killam Trusts to support advanced education and to help in the building of Canada’s future by encouraging advanced research and study. The Killam Trusts constitute the largest private endowment in Canada and the University of Calgary is privileged to be one of the five Killam universities.