Levent Tunçel

Levent Tunçel’s formula for effective teaching isn’t complicated.

All you need to remember is that command and care — command of your field of study, and care to share the things you’ve learned — are the main determinants.

“It is really quite simple,” Tunçel said in a recent interview: “If you care, you do the right thing.”

In recognition of taking command of his research area and caring for his students, Tunçel has received a Distinguished Teacher Award for 2014. It’s one of only four granted annually to teachers across Waterloo’s campuses.

Studying in his native Turkey, Tunçel earned undergraduate and graduate degrees in industrial engineering. Later he completed master’s and PhD degrees, focusing on operations research, at Cornell University in the United States. Then, in 1992, he became a member of Waterloo’s Combinatorics and Optimization Department in the Faculty of Mathematics.

Tunçel’s passion for learning fuels teaching practice

Sitting in his office, piled high with binders of research and teaching materials, Tunçel says his passion for learning fuels his ability to teach.

“One of the best things you can do is to share — that’s quite natural.”

But Tunçel doesn’t single out any one specific technique that may have helped foster his reputation as a teacher. Techniques change from one decade to the next, he notes. But command and care remain the constants.

Caring for students leads a teacher to dedicate the long hours necessary to stay on top of one’s field of study, he says. Caring will also lead a teacher to muster the thought and energy required to successfully share knowledge with students.

The “right thing” for university professors, according to Tunçel, is to teach students how to continue to learn independently long after they leave university.

“Students should be inspired and equipped with tools to learn new things for the rest of their lives,” he says.

And as Waterloo grads celebrate convocation this week, Tunçel, a married father of two university-age daughters, says he’s heartened at the sight of students celebrating their major achievements.

“It’s quite emotional,” he says. “I feel very proud of them.”

Read more teaching stories at the University of Waterloo’s Centre for Teaching Excellence.