Creativity, courage define top teacher

by Andy Poon
Staff writer

Zoology Assoc. Prof. Lee Gass is one of 10 Canadian university educators named as 3M Teaching Fellows this year.

"My responsibility is for students to learn, however that happens," says Gass.

Gass is the seventh UBC faculty member to receive the award since its inception in 1986. To date, 140 Canadian university educators from 35 universities have been given the fellowships in recognition of their excellence in teaching as well as leadership and commitment to improving university teaching across disciplines.

A total of 43 nominations were received from 24 Canadian universities this year.

"Lee sets a standard of excellence for faculty and students," says Barry McBride, vice-president, Academic and Provost. "He is a creative, demanding, courageous and caring teacher who challenges students to become actively involved in learning."

From the beginning, Gass taught by inquiry and has helped colleagues increase student participation in their classrooms.

"Lee is one of the most original and creative teachers I have encountered," says Science Dean Maria Klawe. "Students often tell me that he has completely changed the way they see the world and themselves. We are very lucky to have him at UBC."

"He's always been the farthest one in front in terms of pedagogical approach," says Zoology Head James Berger. "He is just such a phenomenal story-teller so he uses that gift to draw things out of students and has been a real pioneer in moving people to a more learner or student-centred approach."

An innovative educator with 35 years of teaching experience, Gass was instrumental in developing UBC's Science One program -- an interdisciplinary first-year program that uses a team approach among professors to teach an integrated science curriculum.

"The students learn the material from different points of view and at the same time learn to question their own and others' knowledge and learn that science is a cultural activity," says Gass.

Gass also helped design and deliver the first course, "The Size of Things," in a new Integrated Sciences degree program launched in 1998. The program allows students to design their own degrees by selecting existing courses in two or more disciplines.

Gass was one of the creators of Science First, an independent, lunch-time lecture series for undergraduate students in which scientists tell the story of their life and their work.

Since Gass gave the inaugural lecture in 1996, the series has attracted a large and diverse audience of students, graduate students and faculty each year.

In April, Gass was awarded the University's Killam Prize for Excellence in Teaching.

When he is not in the classroom, Gass researches the behaviour of hummingbirds and carves stone sculptures.

The award is sponsored by 3M Canada Inc. and the Society for Teaching and Learning in Higher Education.