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Dr. Joanna Ochocka wins 2005 Award for Teaching Excellence for part-time faculty
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Dr. Joanna Ochocka, an adjunct faculty member in the Department of Psychology, is being recognized for her outstanding teaching abilities with the 2005 Award for Teaching Excellence for part-time faculty. She will receive the award at the June 3 convocation.
Ochocka holds a PhD in sociology from Silesia University in Poland. Two years after graduation, with the communist government replaced by a Solidarity-led coalition, Ochocka and her husband, Les Robelek, and daughter, Kate (now a Laurier grad), came to Canada.
Both Ochocka and her husband had travelled extensively before emigrating, visiting eastern Europe, England, Germany, Nepal, Peru, Singapore, Thailand and India, among other countries. The entire family (including son Nickolas, now 13) are avid travellers, hikers and climbers.
Soon after arriving, Ochocka took a few graduate courses at Laurier and the University of Waterloo and began doing contract teaching and research. In 1997 she began teaching at Laurier, in the departments of Psychology and Social Work, concentrating on qualitative research methods. Qualitative research is unlike quantitative research in that you analyze words rather than numbers.
In addition to teaching qualitative research methods, program evaluation and community research, Ochocka has become a very active scholar herself, often publishing jointly with her students. As executive director of the Centre for Research and Education in Human Services, based in Kitchener, Ochocka oversees an organization that is becoming renowned for its expertise in social research.
“It is a unique and interesting place to work,” she says of the research centre. “We are a group of people who use research as a tool to help make communities more supportive of people who are disadvantaged.”
The organization “is a pioneer in participatory action research and a leader in community-based research in Canada,” she says. Its current research includes a study of high-school dropouts, in partnership with Laurentian University and the Hospital For Sick Children, with funding from the Ministry of Education, and the Community University Research Alliance project, which is receiving $1 million in funding over five years from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council to examine multicultural diversity in terms of mental health.
Ochocka’s involvement with the research centre is not incidental to winning the teaching award.
“I get students involved at the centre,” she says, working on research involving community mental health, family support, women’s issues, aging issues and immigration issues.
“I believe in linking theory, research and practice. The students appreciate it.”
They also appreciate her in the classroom. Some of the comments students made in Ochocka’s nomination for the award include:
“Joanna’s class instruction was truly outstanding. She has a wealth of experience in community research methods and teaches such material with great passion. She always provided examples or in-depth case studies to make our understanding and learning enriched. She used a pedagogical approach that allowed each student to participate and share their own experiences, thus increasing and enhancing the knowledge of the whole group.”
“Dr. Ochocka … inspired me with her passion for participatory action research and consistently was able to motivate me to complete recommended reading material in addition to completing assignments and required reading material. She was able to connect what we were learning in the readings and in class to real-life case studies … Her vast expertise in community psychology and her work at the Centre for Research and Education set her apart from other professors that I have worked with in the past.”
“Through my learning experience with Dr. Ochocka, I no longer see myself as an outsider, but as part of a social change agent. I also learn about self-empowerment through empowering members of the marginalized population.”
Ochocka says the teaching award is “a very big thank you for the work I do at Laurier.
“Teaching is a challenge,” she says, “to show that values of caring, inclusion and engagement can be implemented in the classroom and theory can be used in real-life situations.
“The whole thing about teaching is to support students individually, while keeping them accountable for their educational goals. That is important to me.”