2013 Award for Distinction in Teaching

Yu-Ru LiuIn 2013, the Faculty of Mathematics awarded two faculty members with distinctions in teaching. One of those awards went to Professor Yu-Ru Liu and the other to Professor Dan Wolczuk.

Riding a wave of inspiration from her own university professors, Yu-Ru Liu approaches teaching in a unique way – to inspire her students, relate to them as best she can, and treat them as if they were her own. With an overwhelming excitement to meet her students every term, Liu brings a maternal instinct into the classroom. “Being a new mom, I have a different outlook on teaching now. I want to teach [my students] the same way I would want someone teaching my own children. I look at them like my own kids now so it’s easier to be relaxed and play with the material a bit more,” says Liu.

Liu says motivation comes from nothing specific but she tries to pretend she’s in their shoes to gain a student perspective and that helps her identify concepts, which are easy, and concepts, which are more challenging. It helps her prepare for when she’s in the classroom. “Being a professor and researching is rather a luxurious career when you think about it. Teaching for me, helps justify the luxury – it’s a great opportunity to give back to society.” It’s not just giving back to society that makes it worthwhile for Liu. “Teaching is an excellent way to give back and say thank you to all of the amazing professors I had in university,” says Liu.

Out of all the courses she teaches, Liu says MATH 135 is her favourite. “It’s an excellent opportunity to help students deal with the shell shock of coming to university. The majority of them were top of their class in high school and the adjustment can be a lot. It’s a great chance to help them mature and guide them through their first year.” That mentoring spirit crosses over into her research as well. “Research and mentoring go hand and hand. There’s a delicate balance there. Everything is a priority and a trade off,” says Liu.

As modest as the rest of her colleagues, Liu originally thought there was a mistake when she was given the award for distinction in teaching. “I thought I was in trouble when I had to go and speak with Serge [D’Alessio]. I figured something was wrong. English isn’t my first language so I thought there must be a mistake. I couldn’t believe that I was given the same award as so many people I respect.” Liu says she visited the classrooms of other distinguished teaching award winners like Serge D’Alessio, and others to gather ideas on how to conduct her own lessons. Impressed by their teaching methods, Liu says she reflects on their experience when she gets tired or discouraged. “If I can be like them, I know my students will do well. Serge, Brian Forrest (who was given a Waterloo Distinguished Teacher Award in 2000, and received a Canadian Mathematics Society Excellence in Teaching Award in 2007), and Frank Zorzitto (who was given a Waterloo Distinguished Teacher Award in 1993) – they’re all such an inspiration. I want to thank them for helping me be the teacher I am.”

Liu and Wolczuk join 12 past recipients of the Faculty of Mathematics Award for Distinction in Teaching since its inception:

  • 2012 – Stephen New and Levent Tuncel
  • 2011 – J.P. Pretti and Jeffrey Shallit
  • 2010 – Serge D’Alessio and Alfred Menezes
  • 2009 – Ian Goulden and Troy Vasiga
  • 2008 – Robin Cohen and David McKinnon
  • 2007 – Beverly Marshman and Ian VanderBurgh

Nominate your outstanding Faculty of Mathematics teacher for this award!

University of Waterloo

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