Sally Lerner, recipient of the Distinguished Teacher Award, 1987

Environment and Resource Studies

Sally Lerner has been teaching at Waterloo since 1970. She joined the University as lecturer in the Department of Man-Environment Studies, and she is now associate professor in the Department of Environment and Resource Studies, her old department under a new name. Environment and resource studies (ERS) is not a traditional university department, and Sally Lerner is not a traditional university professor. The principles on which the program of ERS is built emphasize the integration and synthesis of concepts, theories, methods, and techniques from various disciplines and professions as applied to issues linking human and natural systems. Students in ERS develop an integrated view of the way our society functions: the way we use energy, the way we treat our environment, the ways we can effect social change, the impact on us of new technologies, the values and ethics which govern our choices. The educational philosophy of the department puts more emphasis on students learning in projects and workshops, with the real world as their laboratory, than on being taught in the classroom in the traditional way. This program bears the unmistakable stamp of Sally Lerner's contributions in the course of its development. Professor Lerner's distinction as a teacher mirrors the nature of the department. She is innovative, she is committed to developing viewpoints which transcend the bounds of traditional disciplines, and she puts an extraordinary amount of time and intellectual effort into working with the students. One colleague described Sally Lerner's teaching in these words: “She manages her classroom presentations to maximize understanding. She lectures with clarity and authority. She tutors with questions and counsel. She advises with sensitivity and an expectation of student effort. She requires much of her students, but more of herself.” The nomination of Sally Lerner for the Distinguished Teacher Award included many letters from former students, some of them written in very distant places. These letters express clearly why Sally is a very distinguished teacher: One refers to Sally in her role as an honours thesis advisor: “She helped me in many ways to complete a complex and, in hindsight, overly ambitious task. above all it was her patience that sustained me through the obstacles.” Sally seems to combine patience with something a little more energetic according to another student: “(she) can light a fire under the most reticent of undergrads.” And another letter includes this very interesting testimonial to Sally's influence on her students: “Even though my career has not followed the direction of my university studies, (her) confidence in my abilities laid the foundation for my self-employment and work as a system analyst.” And from another letter: “She forced us to go beyond what we thought we could do. She made us believe we could do it; she gave us the necessary confidence.” The last word belongs to one of Sally's colleagues. He says simply this: “Being with Sally had made a great difference to many young people's lives.”