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'He just speaks and he is so clear'

- May 19, 2010

Jean Burnell
Chemistry professor Jean Burnell has been honored with the university's top teaching prize, the Dalhousie Alumni Association Award for Excellence in Teaching. (Nick Pearce Photo)

It takes just a few minutes for Jean Burnell to stroll from his office in the chemistry building to the Scotiabank Auditorium, one of the big lecture halls in the Marion McCain building.

And in that short time, he plans what he’s going to talk about in CHEM 2402, a rather big introductory class on organic chemistry with 200 or more students. He brings a whiteboard marker with him and nothing else.

“I show up and talk,” he says with a shrug, describing the teaching style that this year has won him the university’s top teaching prize, the Dalhousie Alumni Association Award for Excellence for Teaching. “I rely on what I can show the students with words and what I can draw.”

Students have described his lectures as “amazing,” “clear, organized and understandable,” “interesting and interactive” and complained only about the “ungodly” hour of the class—8:30 a.m. “His lecture style doesn’t put me to sleep and he explains difficult concepts in a simple way,” wrote one student about his early-morning education in the properties and reactions of alcohols, ethers, amines, nitriles, carbonyl-containing functional groups and aromatic compounds. “Never let him retire.”

Graduating student Sunisha Neupane says Dr. Burnell is a gifted teacher, the best she’s had at Dalhousie.

“He is so smart. He comes in with no notes, nothing prepared. He just speaks and he is so clear,” says Ms. Neupane, a double major in chemistry and international development studies. “I have never seen anyone so confident. I think he’s very impressive.”

With a full teaching load, Dr. Burnell teaches 300 to 500 students each year. As well as CHEM 2401/02, he also teaches Identification of Organic Compounds (CHEM 3402), Synthesis in Organic Chemistry (CHEM 4401 and CHEM 5401). Besides the time he spends in the lecture hall, he makes a point to visit labs and tutorial sessions—“I like to go around and talk to students so they know they’re not being taught by automatons,” he says.

A professor at Dalhousie since 2002 when he was recruited from Memorial University, Dr. Burnell, 59, is the recipient of three other teaching awards: the DSU teaching award in 2007, Dalhousie Undergraduate Chemistry Society teaching awards in 2007 and 2008 and Faculty of Science Award for Excellence in Teaching in 2008. He insists he’s motivated by the importance of the subject matter, his passion for passing on his knowledge and his enthusiasm for science, “and definitely not awards.”

“It’s nice to acknowledged,” he says looking pained, “but I do find it a little embarrassing.”

Teaching award winners

The Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences Award for Excellence in Teaching: Anthony Stewart, Department of English

Dalhousie University Alumni Award: Jean Burnell, Department of Chemistry

Gordon Archibald Teaching Excellence Award, School of Business Administration: Abdul-Rahim Ahmed

Outstanding Graduate Advisor: Peter O'Brien, Classics and Mandy Kay-Raining Bird, Human Communication Disorders

Dalhousie University Outstanding Undergraduate Faculty Advisor: Jennifer Stamp

Outstanding Student Peer Advisor: Rani Ojah

Commerce Professor of the Year Award: Carolan McLarney

Dean’s Teaching Excellence Award: Kamal El-Sankary

Dalhousie Dental Students Society Dr. Wayne Garland Award for The Faculty Member for Outstanding Dedication and Commitment to Providing a Quality Education throughout the Four Years of Dental School at Dalhousie University: Vernon Shaffner

Dalhousie Dental Students Society Honour Award for the Faculty Member for Outstanding Dedication and Commitment to Providing a Quality Education throughout the Four Years of Dental School at Dalhousie University: Gorman Doyle

Dalhousie Dental Students Society Honour Award for the Part Time Instructor who has Contributed the Most to Student Improvement in Clinical Dentistry: Mark Vallee

W.W. Wood Award for Excellence in Dental Education: Richard Raftus

Earth Sciences Professor of the Year Award: Lawrence Plug

Dalhousie University Educational Leadership Award: David Black, Deborah Buszard and Steven Mannell, College of Sustainability and the Environment – Sustainability and Society Program

Faculty of Engineering Teaching Excellence Award: Paul Amyotte

Faculty of Health Professions Teaching Excellence Award: Anne Fenety

Teaching Excellence Awards in Management Education: Robert Blunden, Maria Pacurar and Ed Leach, School of Business Administration; Sandra Toze, School of School of Information Management; Michael Davies, School of Public Administration.

Dr. Forbes Langstroth Memorial Award, Physics & Atmospheric Science: Ian Hill

Hanna & Harold Barnett Award for Excellence in Teaching First Year Law: Richard Devlin

The Dalhousie Law Students’ Society and Alumni Association Award for Excellence in Teaching: Elaine Craig

Dr. Jesse I. MacKnight Award for Excellence in Pharmaceutical Teaching Associate: Kerry Goralski

First-year MBA Professor of the Year Award: Rick NasonSecond-year MBA Professor of the Year Award: Tammy Crowell

Dalhousie Medical Alumni Association Residency Teaching Award: Cory Jubenville, division of Neurology, Department of Medicine

Professor of the Year Award, Medical Students’ Society: Med 1: Tim Lee, Immunology and Med 2: Richard Langley, Dermatology

The Silver Shovel Award, Medical Students’ Society: Gord Gubitz, division of Neurology, department of Medicine

Undergraduate Neuroscience Society Professor of the Year Award: Nathan Crowder

School of Nursing Teacher Appreciation Award: Colleen Kiberd

The President’s Graduate Teaching Assistant Award: Sarah Crawford, Department of Chemistry

Professor Appreciation Award (Years I & II B.Eng): Robert Warner and Gordon Fenton

Dalhousie Association of Psychology Students Professor of the Year Award: Benjamin Rusak

Dalhousie Sessional and Part-Time Teaching Award for Excellence in Teaching: Taghrid Abou Hassan, Department of French

Faculty of Science Award for Excellence in Teaching: Peter Wentzell, Chemistry

Srini Award for Teaching Excellence in Computer Science: Alex Brodsky

Dalhousie Student Union Teaching Awards:
• Matthew Numer, School of Health and Human Performance, Health Professions
• Paul Amyotte, Process Engineering and Applied Science, Engineering
• Robert Beiko, Computer Science

- Compiled by Sean Payne

 


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