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Teaching Excellence Awards
Sherrene Kevan named part-time recipient
It happens every year. A new class, a brand new crop of students, and the first words out of Sherrene Kevan's mouth are: "This is a course on birds! This is not a bird course!"
Nobody has ever walked out at this point, and by the time Biology 215 (Ornithology) is over, they're glad they haven't.
Kevan, the 2003 recipient of the Award for Teaching Excellence for part-time contract academic staff, brings her zeal for birds and wildlife of all kinds into the classroom, and her enthusiasm is contagious.
"A university class is much more enjoyable when the instructor really knows the material and enjoys teaching it," a student wrote as part of Kevan's nomination. "I think Sherrene did a great job teaching ornithology and I am glad I took it." "She teaches with such unmistakeable eagerness that her interest in the material becomes contagious to the student, who in turn desires to learn more," wrote another.
Kevan created the BI215 ornithology course (she teaches other courses as well) seven years ago, and it has proven popular with both regular students and students drawn from the birding community. The course is held in intersession because field work is a major component. Each student conducts a breeding bird census during May and June, when breeding birds are most active.
"Students learn to identify birds by their wing shape, colour, shape of the bill and the toe arrangment … in other words, the topography of the bird," says Kevan.
They also receive a CD-ROM in their course packages with colour photos and songs of 136 common Ontario birds. The CD-ROM was developed by Kevan and it can even be downloaded into a Palm Pilot for portable bird identification.
Utilizing current technology is just one technique the multi-talented Kevan uses in the classroom and in labs.
Now half-way through her PhD program in biology (specializing in ornithology) at the University of Waterloo, Kevan can also discuss aquatic toxicology (her master's thesis) and bees (her husband is an entomologist at the University of Guelph, specializing in apiculture and pollination; the couple hold three patents on a process for micro-encapsulating menthol, so that bees will ingest it with sugar. Menthol will suppress or kill tracheal mites, a major problem facing beekeepers.). Kevan is also a published poet and delights in black-and-white photography.
Kevan says she became interested in nature as a child in Wisconsin.
"My mother was always interested in nature. She would point out animals and take us to the zoo, and we would go to a cabin where we would see deer and other wildlife."
When the family moved to Colorado, the mountains provided a plethora of wildlife viewing opportunities.
"I find that birds are really fascinating," Kevan says. Migration, for example, is one of their most interesting aspects "and there's not much known about how and why they do it."
So what makes her a good teacher?
"Experience helps," she says, "and preparation. I try to get students interested in the material, induvidually and as a group. I like to get to know students and why they are interested in the course, to take the time to help them and show an interest in the subject matter.
"There are so many different ways to approach a class and handle a subject. It's always good to be open to new things and try new technologies, and to get feedback from students about what they like to see and hear. It can vary from year to year. You have to be willing to be flexible."
Kevan will receive her award at the June convocation.
Wilfrid Laurier University