Enthusiasm is a key part of teaching for Emily McWalter, an assistant professor in the University of Saskatchewan’s College of Engineering (USask Engineering).
“I think if you come to class enthusiastic about what you’re teaching, it gets you a lot of the way there,” says McWalter, USask Engineering’s winner of the 2022 Provost’s College Award for Outstanding Teaching.
Using props in the classroom is one of her favourite techniques, but don’t envision purpose-built devices borrowed from a lab.
“Right now, most of my props come from the toy box because I’ve got young kids,” says McWalter, who’s a faculty member in the Department of Mechanical Engineering. “Teaching with a lot of props makes it easy to be enthusiastic.”
“Dr. McWalter has quickly established herself as a thoughtful, engaged, and dedicated faculty member in the Department of Mechanical Engineering. . . . (She) is an innovative teacher who seizes every opportunity to enhance her teaching,” states her nomination from Dean Suzanne Kresta and Department Head Jim Bugg.
The core undergraduate class she teaches is ME 226, in which students study planar dynamics, known to laypeople as motion and forces in two dimensions, i.e. simple machines like an oil rig pump jack or a slider crank in a reciprocating engine.
“I try to empower students with the material, to say we’re all here for one goal, which is to allow them to learn this material as best they can during the class and use it in their future engineering careers,” says McWalter, who joined USask in January 2016 from Stanford, where she was a postdoctoral fellow, then research associate.
Her efforts are greatly appreciated by her students. “I liked that she used toys to do in-class demonstrations as it showed how these concepts were a part of everyday life,” states one evaluation.
Students also noted that McWalter’s classes are well-organized, she marks fairly and strives to connect with them beyond the course material.
“Emily McWalter is a phenomenal professor. . . . this class ran exceptionally smoothly,” says another evaluation. “Prof. McWalter not only helps students, but she wants to. She put in extra effort to know who her students were and make sure we were not drowning in homework.
“It is evident she loves her job and she always brings a lot of energy to class (even at 8:30 on a Monday when we would all like to go back to bed).”
McWalter, who earned her bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from Queen’s University, then her master’s and PhD in biomechanics at the University of British Columbia, says teaching well has been important to her since her time as a graduate teaching assistant (TA) at UBC.
While there she earned a Killam Graduate Teaching Assistant Award, which recognizes outstanding contributions to teaching and learning. Though there are more than 2,000 teaching assistants, fewer than 20 TAs a year receive a Killam Award.
“Teaching is always something I’ve always found to be important as an academic,” says McWalter.
In her nomination from college leadership, it’s noted that McWalter has engaged with USask’s Gwenna Moss Centre for Teaching and Learning more than any other faculty member they are aware of, in addition to her participation in the college’s informal teaching-focused group, and accessing courses from the National Effective Teaching Institute.
McWalter’s calendar is full, but she believes enhancing her skills is important.
“That’s part of the responsibility when you take a teacher-scholar position. Part of this job is being good at teaching so it’s important to continue building your skills in teaching, as well as building your knowledge and research skills.”