Once a year, students take the time to pay tribute to those people who make their education possible: their professors. After the recent announcement of this year’s MSU Teaching Awards, and the ceremony on March 14, the Silhouette sat down with some of the award winners to get their take on what it means to get recognized by their students.

Dr. Felicia Vulcu is not your typical professor. Hailing from Romania, Vulcu spent her high school years in Edmonton and was pointed to McMaster by her guidance counselor. After completing her undergraduate degree, Master’s, and PhD all at Mac, in 2008 she ended up with a job in the same department that had trained her. As an assistant professor and undergraduate advisor in the Department of Biochemistry and Biomedical Sciences, Vulcu is focused on the learning experience, making her a perfect recipient for the Pedagogical Innovation Award.

What exactly do you do here at McMaster?

I do a lot of things in the program, but mainly I was hired to run the teaching labs. We are very research intensive, so we have a full-year second year lab — that’s the one I won the award for. The idea behind it was to introduce students to research but really sneak in techniques, instead of just giving them techniques. [We have them] do many different things – some inquiry, some presentation. I try to minimize their stress, especially with assessments. That’s my goal in life. For me it’s not to get students to learn, because I think everybody learns. It’s to get them to understand the research process, and then see if they like it, because if they like it, they should stick with it.

How did you end up in your current job?

I had no plan on getting here. I know people sometimes sculpt, but I bumped through life. I didn’t know what to do in my undergrad. I liked the research concept, and when I went in, I loved it. Then I matured and I saw who I was as a person, what I wanted out of my own personal life—I wanted to be happy, and I wanted to have a social job, where I interact with people. I saw that the researcher job…didn’t fit my personality. I applied to every job known to man, and I just bumped into this. You can say it was luck—it was dumb luck. But once I got in it, I absolutely loved it.

What does this award mean to you?

It was not something that I set out to do—I just enjoy teaching. Getting this was very humbling for me, so I just felt warm all over. When the students give me something like this, it means that they really are responding to me. But it’s not just me doing this—we make a huge effort in our department to be innovative to get students to just see how passionate we are about research. It was huge for us—everyone in the department is happy that this program is being recognized. You can’t be innovative on your own.

 

Joe Argentino always knew that music was his calling. And now, as an Assistant Professor in Music Theory in the School of the Arts, he lives that dream and teaches music skills, as well as and music history for non-music majors. First coming to McMaster to fill a position for a professor on sabbatical, he has found a home at Mac over the past four years. As the teaching award winner for the Faculty of Humanities, and a nominee for last year’s awards, it’s clear that students like having him here.

What exactly do you do here at McMaster?

I teach skills classes, such as sight singing and keyboard harmony. I also teach upper level theory courses, in twentieth century analysis and history courses, and courses for non-music majors. This year it was my keyboard harmony class that nominated me. Most of them were from this 2D03 class. It’s not usually a very popular course—it’s one of those classes where students are constantly assessed. Last year I was nominated for a sight singing class, which most people don’t like because they have to sing in front of their friends and it’s a bit scary. And obviously teaching is as important to me as research; they’re neck and neck. For my research, I generally analyze music from the twentieth century, and I would consider myself an expert on the music of Schoenberg. I try to bring new approaches to the music. Sometimes this type of analysis I do can be very math heavy, and some of the work that I do takes the math away from it and makes it user friendly.

What do you hope students get out of your classes?

I generally want my students to enjoy themselves in my class. I want it to be an experience where they feel fulfilled, even just being there. Of course, I always have the goal to get through the content, but to be better thinkers, to have confidence in themselves…I try in all my classes where it’ll benefit them regardless of where they end up. I just think I try to make my classes very relaxed, so people can approach me. I use a lot of humour and try to be as encouraging as possible all the time, but at the same time…I really want people to excel and do their absolute best. People are not afraid to talk to me, ask me questions, or make mistakes in front of me.

What does this award mean to you?

To be nominated, already I’d felt like I’d won. There’s nothing better than getting that recognition from my students. Sometimes you don’t know—last year when I was nominated, I was really surprised. I had no idea my students were enjoying the class. And this year it was kind of the same thing. Sitting at the ceremony, I felt very emotional. I wasn’t expecting to feel that. Having won, being on stage—it was the absolute highlight of my career so far. I can’t remember ever having experienced a better feeling.

 

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