Frey receives Provost's Award for Outstanding Teaching

Engineering professor honoured at USask's annual Celebration of Teaching ceremony

Joel Frey is professor who inspires everyone around him to be better.

“As faculty members, he moves us to teach better and to care more deeply for our students. His students share that they learn better and care more deeply for their profession and for society as a result of his teaching.”

These comments from leadership at the University of Saskatchewan College of Engineering (USask Engineering) were made in support of Frey’s nomination as the college’s 2020-21 recipient of the Provost’s College Award for Outstanding Teaching. The awards were presented Friday in a virtual ceremony. 

In receiving his award, Frey thanked those within the college who “took a chance on him” when he was hired in 2017. “They’ve given me the opportunity to turn my passion into my livelihood and that’s a really magical thing.”

Frey (PhD’12) was a practising engineer before he joined the college as curriculum developer for the college’s RE-ENGINEERED first-year program, which launches this fall. He is now an Assistant Professor, a joint appointment in the Graham School of Professional Development (SOPD) and the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering.

“Students see Dr. Frey as an ally in their learning as they become familiar with not only the material of a particular course, but more importantly its consequences for who they are in the world,” wrote Frey’s nominators: Deb Rolfes, executive director of the SOPD; Bruce Sparling, the college’s associate dean academic; and Dean Suzanne Kresta.

“Joel describes a wish that each of his students make a ‘new connection to their true selves’ as a result of engaging in their learning journey in his classes,” they added.

In his teaching philosophy, Frey states that he has rooted his teaching in the principle of connection.

“An honest connection between student and teacher allows for the use of emotional appeals, the inclusion of story-telling and the creation of safe spaces within classrooms of all types, even the most technical,” he wrote.

“Setting the stage for learning each day by giving the class a chance to leave their individual baggage at the door through the use of a joke, a semi-relevant story or a few minutes of meditation can clear the air and remind them that it is not them versus me, nor them against the institution, but that we are all in this together.”

In their course evaluations, students consistently said they looked forward to Frey’s classes – even early on Monday morning – because they were fun and he explained the material well.

“Professor Frey was an engaging instructor who kept students’ attention in lectures through his warm demeanor and use of Marvel-themed examples to gain our interest,” states a student from Frey’s first-year general engineering class, referring to pop culture references from the Marvel superhero universe. “His tendency to share personal anecdotes that were relevant to the material not only demonstrated how the course content was applicable to everyday life, but also made him a more personable instructor.”

Frey’s nomination also highlights his integral role in the development of USask Engineering's new first-year program, which will be unique in Canada in its overall structure, content and assessment practices.

“What he lacks in broad teaching experience over many years, he has made up for through rapid assimilation and learning, raw talent, sound vision and boundless enthusiasm,” wrote Prof. Sean Maw, another key member of first-year redesign team. “I consider myself very lucky to work with him and I reiterate that the new First-year Engineering Program would not have happened without him.”

This is the second teaching award Frey has received in recent months. The Saskatoon Engineering Society named him its 2019-20 Educator of the Year. Among his nominators were engineers Margaret Kuzyk and Lesley McGilp, who noted Frey’s commitment to Indigenization within the engineering program.

“He is leading efforts to provide Indigenous cultural contextualization for all incoming engineering students. For this work, in 2018, he was invited by his Indigenous colleagues to be a member of the USask Buffalo Circle as an ally in reconciliation.”

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