Distinguished Faculty Awards

Distinguished Faculty Awards

Distinguished Faculty Awards celebrate outstanding performance by faculty in all aspects of their role and support faculty in the ongoing enhancement of their teaching and/or scholarship. These prestigious awards constitute a public reward, recognition and celebration of outstanding work, and are a way of thanking individual faculty members for exemplary contributions in teaching, research and service.

Each year, members of the Mount Royal community, including students, nominate professors for Distinguished Faculty Awards. Award recipients are selected by a committee comprised of faculty, student and administrators based on the following criteria:

  • exemplary teaching, dedication to student learning and development, and enhancement of the student experience
  • leadership in teaching, service and scholarship
  • demonstrated contributions to the university’s mission – a learning community that focuses on instruction and is informed by scholarship
  • innovative, creative and reflective practice
  • commitment to academic integrity

Meet the 2016 Award recipients

By all accounts, Carol Krol, a contract faculty member of the Sociology and Anthropology Department, is beloved by her students at Mount Royal University.


She received a Students’ Association E-Award for teaching excellence in 2015 and was described as follows: “A dedicated instructor, Carol Krol goes above and beyond in service of her students. Her students describe her as warm, engaging, fun and passionate about her teachings. Always willing to devote her time to her students, Carol Krol stands as an example of a tireless educator, always putting her students first.”

This year, she was nominated for a 2016 Distinguished Faculty award by a student.

“Carol is a professor who enhances the student experience at MRU with her enthusiasm, clarity of expectations and passion for her discipline,” writes Zoe Slusar, an anthropology major in the Bachelor of Arts program, in her nomination letter. “She treats us as human beings and levels with us as people, while encouraging us to meet her expectations of academic excellence.”

Carol and her colleague Frederick Ulmer are researching the rodeo culture of non-professional cowboys and cowgirls in southern Alberta. The specific focus is the members of the Foothills Cowboy Association and the rodeos they sanction. Their research involves both fieldwork and archival research.

Carol, MA, PhD (ABD), joined MRU in 1992. 

DFA_2016_CariTo describe Cari Merkley as a librarian doesn’t quite tell the whole story.

At Mount Royal University, librarians are part of faculty, so she’s also an associate professor — an academic librarian who teaches and does research.

A 2016 Distinguished Faculty Award winner, Cari received her Master of Information Studies degree from the University of Toronto in 2005. She worked in the University of Alberta’s Academic Library Internship Program before joining MRU in 2007.

Cari describes her job as “pretty varied.” “I might educate a class of first-year nursing students on critiquing sources,” she says. “I often do one-on-one teaching or, sometimes, it’s responding to panicked emails.”

In essence, her work is to help students and faculty develop their information literacy skills, to find and critically evaluate the best and most trust-worthy sources.

She’s responsible for selecting resources — books, videos and journals, many of which are online — for the general education, nursing and midwifery departments. “There’s a lot of information in the area of health. How do you find information that’s appropriate for a health professional? How does it guide your practice? How do you make informed choices?”

“Cari’s support of our students is outstanding, and our program is better because we have her,” writes Deborah Mansell, a faculty member in the School of Nursing & Midwifery, in her nomination letter.

A self-described “voracious” reader and urban explorer, Cari is currently devouring the Maisie Dobbs mystery series and anticipating an upcoming trip to Ireland. 

DFA_2016_KevinKevin O’Connor began his teaching career in the Yukon, where he was “put into the dumping ground of dumping grounds”: a special education class with a wide range of ages, psychological issues and cognitive disabilities, including Fetal Alcohol Syndrome.

“It was a huge learning curve,” says Kevin, an assistant professor of Education and a 2016 Distinguished Faculty Award winner. The subsequent 13 years of teaching in the North taught him about the value of experiential learning, the important of “place” and the need to involve community partners. And it launched him on an academic path, in search of a more holistic model of education.

Those lessons informed his PhD in education at McGill and his job as a senior policy advisor on Aboriginal education issues for the federal government. They also inspire his work at Mount Royal University, whether it’s partnering with the Ann & Sandy Cross Conservation Area to turn education students (plus schoolkids and their teachers) on to science, or finding innovative ways to support teacher education by integrating theory and practice.

He and two colleagues are funded by the largest SSHRC grant MRU has received to date to study teacher candidates and support them with in-school weekly seminars and integrated course work as they bump up against the realities of the classroom during their practicums and in the initial years of their careers.

When he’s not coaching his kids’ hockey, Kevin loves to go camping with his family.

DFA_2016_IreneBy combining hot-button social-justice issues with her expertise as a sociologist of health, gender and social inequality, Irene Shankar spurs her students to become active, engaged citizens.

For example, Irene and her students in a feminist theory course discussed how what they learn can’t just be theoretical — that they must also take action. Within two weeks, the students raised $3,500 for Doctors Without Borders. Her students have also collected toys for homeless children at Inn From the Cold and refugees helped by the Calgary Catholic Immigration Society.

Nominated four times for her exemplary teaching, Irene received a Champion Award from the Students’ Association of Mount Royal University in 2013 and is now a 2016 Distinguished Faculty Award winner.

An assistant professor in the Sociology & Anthropology Department who joined MRU in 2009, Irene holds a PhD from the University of Alberta. She will be taking a year-long sabbatical in 2016/17 and using it to write up two studies — one on how pregnant women made sense of health messages during the H1N1 flu crisis; another on how universities react to sexual assault on their campuses — and begin a new project on childhood vaccination.

Irene spends as much time as she can with her young daughter, exploring Calgary.


Meet the 2015 Award recipients

Trevor Day Everest ResearchA cardiorespiratory and cerebrovascular physiologist and associate professor of physiology in the Department of Biology, Trevor Day likes to refer to himself simply as a “heart, lungs and brain guy.” His interest in cardiorespiratory physiology began in Grade 12, when he worked as a lifeguard. This path continued when he became an Emergency Medical Technician. “I saw first-hand what happens when you can’t breathe.” His growing interest in the brain led him to complete an undergraduate program in neuropsychology and a PhD in respiratory neurobiology at the University of Calgary.

Trevor joined Mount Royal in 2007 and teaches undergraduate courses in basic and applied physiology. Kristi Wynnyk, one of several students who nominated Trevor for a 2015 Distinguished Faculty Award, says that he’s become “an incredible mentor for his students, has a true passion for teaching and has played a crucial role in the success of countless students.”

“This award means so much to me, because it was driven by students,” says Trevor. “It’s very gratifying.”

A guitarist, who collaborates with author/ broadcaster Jay Ingram on various “science and music mashups,” Trevor says his favourite part of teaching is providing undergraduate students with real-life research opportunities. For example, he and six Mount Royal students were slated to trek to Everest’s base camp in early May for a research project investigating how lowlanders adapt to highaltitude environments. He had planned to develop some portable diagnostic tools to help identify acute mountain sickness, resulting from low oxygen levels in the body. But, given the earthquake that devastated Nepal on April 25, Trevor cancelled the trip. Instead, the team will focus its efforts this summer on doing simulated high-altitude work in the lab. Read more.
content_english_rharrisonsmAn award-winning poet, essayist, editor and Mount Royal professor, Richard is celebrating a very good year. It began when he was made a full professor in the Department of English. Then, Richard’s long-time publisher accepted the manuscript for his latest book of poetry, largely about his role as a son and as a father. It’s slated for release in the fall of 2016. He’s just put the finishing touches on “Red: A Haida Manga,” a essay about aboriginal graphic novelist Michael Nicoll Yahgulanaas for inclusion in a forthcoming book about the Canadian graphic novel. The essay will be published next year by the University of Alberta Press. And, nicely capping this stellar year, Richard was named a 2015 Distinguished Faculty Award winner.

“It’s a great honour,” he says.

Richard holds a M.A. in English from Concordia University, a B.Sc in Biology and a B.A. (Honours) in Philosophy, both from Trent University. He has flourished since moving to Calgary in 1995 for a one-year fellowship as the Markin-Flanagan Canadian Writer in Residence at the University of Calgary. He fell in love with the city and joined Mount Royal in 1997 as an associate professor.

“Mount Royal is far ahead of its time, because it accepts that creative work is scholarly work,” says Richard.

This has given him the time and the freedom to “make knowledge,” by publishing widely on literary criticism, mathematics, hockey, comics, graphic novels and superheroes. He’s published nine books, including six books of poetry. Hero of the Play, poems in the language of hockey, was launched at the Hockey Hall of Fame. Richard teaches composition, creative writing (poetry), and comics and graphic novels.
Todd Nickle - FP BioBiology professor Todd Nickle doesn’t make things easy for his students.

“Learning is not something that just happens to you. It is something that you do to yourself,” says Todd, quoting the late Robert Leamnson, the author of a compelling book on teaching philosophy. In his Introductory Biology and Principles of Genetics courses, Todd puts the onus on students to be up to speed before they come to class and to apprise him of the gaps in their knowledge.

“I put a lot of the learning on the students’ shoulders and the results are mixed,” he says. “Learning is hard. It takes discomfort and effort. If we tell students exactly what they want to know, if we just give them the answers, we cut corners and they miss valuable learning.”

Knowing that both students and colleagues nominated him for the 2015 Distinguished Faculty Award makes his win that much more “gratifying.” It is his third such nomination. “I’m proud of being able to work with interesting people,” he says. “Proud of being able to share my ideas and hear other people’s ideas.” Todd earned a PhD from Oklahoma State University in 1998 and came to Mount Royal University a year later. “I used to be a scientist in plant biology, but I made the decision to go into education. My interest now is in learning styles and techniques,” he says. This interest is evident. In his classes, he’s experimented with blogging, video, Just-in-Time Teaching, blended delivery, guided inquiry in the laboratory, peer review of writing and other active-learning techniques.
Katja Pettinen hails from Finland by way of Lafayette, Indiana, where she obtained a PhD in cultural anthropology from Purdue University. The 2015 Distinguished Faculty Award winner began teaching at Mount Royal five years ago, primarily in foundation level General Education courses.

Students in those courses give her rave reviews: “Katja’s classes are a joy, for each and every class she poses new questions, predicaments and concepts to grapple with.”

“It’s mind-blowing to learn new things that I never thought of before.”

“Her class has opened me up to how I think and I look at things in a new light.”

“I enjoy teaching,” says Katja. “It’s a particular challenge and an opportunity to teach courses in General Education. It’s not how academia is structured, where everything is premised on specialization with defined parameters.”

Her approach is to organize each course around a multidisciplinary theme, such as food. “Food is more than just calories you put in your mouth,” she says. “It’s an experience, a social phenomenon. It can be approached biologically, socially, ethnically, morally, aesthetically. We can bring in history and philosophy. Food is nice because it’s very accessible.”

Katja herself has a multidisciplinary background. In Finland, she competed for 10 years in heptathlon, a gruelling track and field combined contest that consists of seven events: 100-metre hurdles, high jump, shot put, long jump, javelin throw, a 200-metre run and an 800-metre run. She’s studied martial arts since the age of 10, but became interested in a traditional Japanese martial art called ‘taijutsu’ when she was completing her PhD. It is the focus of much of her scholarly writing.


Carolynn Sterenberg photoAt the first-day-of class icebreaker in a course called The Art of the Pitch, Carolyn Sterenberg asked her students to write a sixword story about themselves on a Post-it note and stick it on the wall. She wrote one for herself that read, “Wanted summers off; got great life.”

This creative exercise and those six words neatly summarize Carolyn’s approach to life, working and teaching. Carolyn, the proud recipient of a Distinguished Faculty Award, holds a B.Sc. from the University of Alberta and an MBA from the University of Calgary. A geologist by training, she has a background in sales and marketing at both non-profit and for-profit organizations. She joined Mount Royal in 1996. By the fall of 1997, she was on the tenure track and had a child at the same time. After a couple of years of juggling both, Carolyn decided she wanted summers off, like her husband, a teacher. “I gave up the tenure and went part-time. It’s very civilized and I’ve never looked back,” Carolyn says.

Although she mainly teaches marketing and entrepreneurship in the Bissett School of Business, Carolyn’s taught more than 14 different courses. In her Creativity for Entrepreneurial Practice course, she uses gaming and blogging, and encourages students to “step out of their self-imposed boxes” with art, dance and other forms of creative expression. What is the best part of her “awesome” job? “I love that every day is different, and that every day I learn something new and I laugh.” As for those summers, she’s a major supporter of the Okotoks Dawgs baseball team and loves to “travel, camp, run, bike and read trashy novels.”

To learn more about past awards winners and to nominate, visit the nominations page.