Don Ursino (1991)

ursinoAffiliation at the time of the award: Brock University, Biological Sciences.

Citation: Over a professional career that spans 38 years, Don Ursino has demonstrated a deep commitment to his students’ learning and has received consistently high ratings from his classes. A typical student comment on a Don Ursino course is: “A tremendous learning experience. This course has inspired me to return to science” and some advice offered by another student: “Study extremely hard for midterms … he only wants excellence – nothing less”. It is very clear that Dr. Ursino’s teaching makes his courses both challenging and rewarding. This commitment is one reason Don won the Brock Alumni Teaching Award, the award for teaching excellence at Brock University. He was also the first Brock professor to win a teaching award from the Ontario Confederation of University Faculty Associations.

In addition to his many informal consultations with colleagues and students, Don was one of the early members of the Instructional Development Committee at Brock, working directly for university-wide teaching improvement for over seven years. In this capacity he organized and gave workshops on teaching for both faculty and teaching assistants, including chairing the Forum on Teaching and Learning and the Teaching Assistant Day programs. His seminars for colleagues include titles such as “Academic Standards and Student Learning” and “What Makes a Good Teacher?”.

Concurrent Education Program:
In Sept. 1990, Brock University introduced a Concurrent BSc/BEd Education Program to produce teachers who are especially well-prepared in science and mathematics to teach in the elementary schools (Grades 4-8). : I participated in the development of this program and from 1990 until 1996 I served as the first Director of the Program and as an instructor of science education in the program. I am involved, therefore, with science education in the elementary schools, and with the preparation of teachers for these classrooms.

Science to “Non-Science” Students:
I enjoy and value the challenge of engaging non-science students in the study of science (biology). One such opportunity is provided through a course that I teach annually to about 700 non-science students. In this course I focus on only two major topics, the biology of cancer and cardiovascular function as it relates to aging and heart disease, and I structure the lectures around the presentation, analysis, and discussion of data from the contemporary research literature. The limited focus of this course and the extensive use of empirical data make it a novel learning experience for the students, and one which significantly involves them in the process of science. My second contact with non-science students comes through a bioethics course which I offer in collaboration with a professor in the Philosophy department. This course, first offered by us in 1981, attracts students from all disciplines, and once again I am challenged to engage the students in science as an important prerequisite for the challenge they face in defining, analyzing, and resolving the moral dilemmas which we deal with in this course.

Much of my current teaching, therefore, is focused on helping and encouraging students who are often uncomfortable with science, or poorly prepared for science or occasionally even negative towards science, to become actively engaged in the learning of science. I seek to positively affect their attitudes toward science and their abilities to engage in this form of enquiry. Teaching-related presentations and activities: I have been involved in several instructional development activities, offering presentations on ‘Teaching Large Classes’ to new faculty members, ‘On Teaching’ to Teaching Assistants, and as a participant in the peer-consultation program. Several years ago, I collaborated in the design and initial offering of a series of three-day, residential “science camps” for students in grades seven and eight. This program has now grown to 12 camps in May with over 1500 students attending from across Ontario. During their 48 hours on campus, the students are involved in laboratory and computer experiences in biology, chemistry, earth sciences, mathematics, physics and astronomy. This program has been very well received by the schools and has provided an additional and valuable teaching experience for the BSc/BEd students who serve as instructors in these camps. In addition to the above activities, I continue to serve as academic advisor to Brock’s Varsity Men’s Basketball Team and as a member of the Board of Trustees of the University. I am also a competitive distance runner and marathoner, and sing lead in a barbershop quartet of some renown! And, oh yes, I am a competitive runner and marathoner, a member of the SPEBSQSA, and lead singer in a barbershop quartet of some renown!