Cecilia Cotton and Jordan Hamilton win Distinguished Teacher Awards

Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Congratulations to Cecilia Cotton and Jordan Hamilton, recipients of the 2024 Distinguished Teacher Awards from Waterloo’s Centre for Teaching Excellence. Since 1975, the award has been given annually to four exemplary instructors from across the university who have a “record of excellent teaching over an extended period at Waterloo, usually at least five years.”

Headshot of Cecilia Cotton

Cecilia Cotton

Cecilia Cotton is an associate professor in Statistics and Actuarial Science, as well as the associate dean for Undergraduate Studies. “It’s quite humbling to win an award like this because I feel as though I am surrounded by so many wonderful instructors in my department and the Faculty,” Cotton says. “It’s also very gratifying to get to see your efforts acknowledged in this way.”

Diana Skrzydlo, the Faculty of Math Teaching Fellow and Cotton’s nominator for the award, notes that Cotton is dedicated to innovative teaching as well as accessibility. “Her commitment to the learning of all students is motivating and encouraging,” she says. 

Cotton has been a professor at the University of Waterloo since 2009; in addition to her teaching and administrative duties, she uses does biostatistics research using longitudinal data to solve problems in public health. Her favorite class to teach is STAT 337 – Introduction to Biostatistics, because she gets to blend theoretical and applied topics and expose students to medical research. “I want to make statistics relevant to their lives and hope that this will enable them to make informed medical decisions for themselves and for their families in the future.”

Cotton works to accommodate a wide variety of learners in her coursework, and consistently attempts to incorporate different forms of assessment into her curricula. “Don’t be afraid to try new approaches, but maybe just try one new thing per term to keep your own workload manageable!” she says.

She is particularly grateful to her colleagues, noting that “many of the improvements that I’ve made in my teaching have been a direct result of seeing or hearing about something else doing something similar in one of their courses.” Cotton also thanks her past and current students for “being engaged with the courses and providing me with useful feedback.”

Jordan Hamilton

Jordan Hamilton is a lecturer in the Mathematics Undergraduate Group, as well as currently serving as the assistant dean of Core and Service Teaching. “I feel very excited and appreciative to win this award,” Hamilton says. “It is particularly important to me because I was nominated by both my colleagues and my students. I’m honoured to hear that the work I put into my teaching was recognized, in particular during the pandemic.”

Hamilton has “an inspirational and personable teaching style that makes the material come alive, even in large first year classes,” says Skrzydlo, who also nominated him.

He has taught at the University of Waterloo since 2011. Returning to the in-person classroom post-pandemic, he says, has reminded him how much he loves teaching. “Perhaps the most rewarding part of my job is being present when students finally understand a difficult topic,” he says. “Seeing it click for them and their mix of happiness and pride is the definition of success for me.”

As assistant dean of Core and Service Teaching, Hamilton is responsible for assigning instructors to first- and second-year courses, as well as continually working to assess the efficacy of existing undergraduate core classes. In his administrative and classroom work, he emphasizes the importance of adapting material and methods to the situation. “While mathematics can be complicated, it’s important to make it approachable and fun. Tailoring lectures to the students you are teaching can increase student learning and engagement,” he says. “As well, there is no single best way of teaching, so I’d encourage instructors to try new teaching methods and find what works best for you.”

Hamilton is especially grateful to Diana Skrzydlo and Dan Wolczuk for their mentorship, his colleagues and students that nominated him, and his coworkers in the Mathematics Undergraduate Group as well as the Math Undergraduate Office. “Finally, my partner Amber and my son Arvin, who make every day a new adventure.”

You can learn more about the other recipients of this year’s award, as well as the history of the Distinguished Teacher Award, on the CTE website.

Headshot of Jordan Hamilton