Master Teacher Award - Fall 2003
The Master Teacher Award was established to emphasize the importance of teaching at the University of Saskatchewan, to recognize and to honour those faculty members who excel in teaching. The Selection Committee has named Professor Alec Aitken of the Department of Geography to be the recipient of this prestigious award at this Convocation.
Professor Aitken earned his Bachelor of Science in Geography and Biology at Queen's University in 1980 and his Ph.D. at McMaster University in 1987, joining the Department of Geography at this university in 1994; he was promoted to Associate Professor the following year.
Professor Aitken has a comprehensive knowledge of his discipline and has demonstrated excellence in research, publishing regularly in the leading journals in physical geography, geology, and earth sciences. More significantly for this award, Professor Aitken has demonstrated superior teaching at a variety of levels and to many groups. As measured by student evaluations, Alec is consistently assessed as the best professor in his department. An exhaustive evaluation by one of his peers concludes: "My teaching evaluation and review of course materials confirmed a clear sense I had gained in my conversations with students over the years - Professor Aitken is an excellent instructor with a great commitment both to his area of research and to teaching."
"Professors like Alec are an asset to this university," writes one of his students. Other students support this judgement in their written comments: "It has been a pleasure being in this class." "I appreciated that the instructor would volunteer his time to take the class on field trips." "It's nice to get a prof every once in a while who loves what he's teaching." "He gets excited about what he teaches which is rare lately." "I give Dr. Aitken and the course top marks!" "He is the best professor the Geography Department has to offer, and one of the best I have ever had." "It was refreshing to have a professor who displayed such dynamism while teaching." Added to these commendations, students consistently call Alec's classes "important." "This class was the best, most interesting class that I have ever taken."
If this was all that Dr. Aitken had accomplished, he may be as deserving as a handful of other instructors on campus. The other educational activities he engages in set Alec apart, both on and off campus. He spearheaded the development of the Environmental Earth Sciences interdisciplinary program for students who wish to get a broad environmental sciences education, combining soil science, geology, and geography. He is one of the first Geography professors to develop a televised distance education course, in conjunction with the Extension Division. Off campus, two specific activities attest to Alec's dedication and energy as a teacher. As part of the Innovators in the Schools program, he has made almost a hundred elementary school visits since 1993, teaching students about landscapes of the North, geology, paleontology, Inuit culture, and Saskatchewan geomorphology. Youngsters refer to Alec as "that guy with the booming voice who brings all those neat rocks and relates so well to us." For the last four years, Alec has helped develop the Brightwater Science and Environmental Program for Grades 6 and 7 students in the Saskatoon Public School Division. On field trips, Alec shows these students how science works in the real world. Neither of these activities is in Alec's job description, but he clearly feels he has a duty to give back to the community the scientific knowledge he has acquired, making science come alive for the next generation.
Professor Alec Aitken has shown himself to be a superb teacher and an excellent emissary of his discipline, touching everyone he encounters with his passion for science. Eminent Chancellor, I am very pleased to present the Master Teacher Award to Professor Alec Aitken. With the dedication he has displayed and the legacy he is building, the University of Saskatchewan is very fortunate to have such a fine teacher on its staff. He is most deserving of this honour.