STLHE’s Presidents: 40 Years of Leadership and Innovation

Forty years ago, educators with an interest in improving teaching and learning in higher education came together to hold a conference at the University of Guelph. That first conference in 1981 led to the establishment of the Society of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education in 1982 and 40 years of a rich and vibrant community committed to sharing knowledge and advancement of higher education.

To celebrate the 40th annual conference, we are bringing together for the first time on one keynote panel STLHE’s presidents. These individuals have provided leadership and innovation to shape STLHE and its impact on higher education in Canada.

Current President, Denise Stockley, will moderate the panel as the former presidents reflect on STLHE’s past and exciting future.

Denise Stockley | Queen’s University, 2017 to Present

Denise Stockley is the President of the Society for Teaching and Learning in Higher Education (STLHE). She completed her Doctorate in the Psychology of Education at Simon Fraser University and since that time has accumulated extensive experience in promoting both classroom-based and online learning. She has taught, researched, consulted, and provided educational development at the public school, college, university, and corporate levels. Denise joined Queen’s University in January 2001. At Queen’s, she is currently a Professor and Scholar in Higher Education with the Office of the Provost (Teaching and Learning Portfolio) and the Faculty of Health Sciences. Her current research focuses on how we create environments that promote learning. She is the Principal Investigator of several research grants in a variety of areas including those from the Tri-Council (SSHRC, NSERC, and CIHR) and from the Networks of Centre of Excellence (NCE).

As the current President of STLHE, the impact of the society is still evolving as I am always learning. My personal path was shaped directly by the Past-Presidents, specifically Pat Rogers hosted a conference called Opening Doors for Women which changed my views in high school, Gary Poole served on my Doctoral committee and welcomed me to the STLHE family, Chris Knapper hired me into my faculty role at Queen’s University, Julia Christensen Hughes and Joy Mighty taught me that leadership and compassion go hand in hand, and Joy went on to become my Director at Queen’s, Arshad Ahmad and I co-led the 3MNTF impact study where we delved deeply into the history of STLHE, and Robert Lapp and I worked closely together as I was the VP under his leadership.

Over the past 20 or so years, I have also volunteered in different capacities within STLHE under the leadership of Gary, Julia, Joy, Arshad, and Robert, 5 amazing and very different leaders who have mentored me to my current role. Having said all that in reflecting back over my experiences with STLHE the word that always comes to mind is home. Home is where I am surrounded by friends and colleagues who deeply care, where I feel grounded, and where I am constantly stretching and growing as a person and a leader.

Robert Lapp | Mount Allison University, 2014 to 2017

Robert Lapp photo

Robert Lapp is Full Professor of English at Mount Allison University, where he served as Department Head from 2010-2017. Winner of a 3M National Teaching Fellowship in 2008, and former President of STLHE (2014-17), Dr. Lapp teaches a range of course in eighteenth and nineteenth-century British Literature, as well as ecological approaches to literary criticism. His current research is a study of the theory and practice of ecopoetics and the development of an new anthology of ecologically-themed poetry that includes Canadian authors. His creative work includes the theory and practice of performing literature, including the art of poetic recitation. Since the fall of 2017 his poetry readings have been featured once a week on CBC Radio One NB’s programme “Shift.”

The most notable impact the STLHE has made on me since 2014 has been an increased capacity for educational leadership and collaboration. Most recently, for example, I have happily taken on the co-chairship of the Teaching and Learning Committee of the Maple League of Universities (Bishop’s, Acadia, St Francis Xavier, and Mount Allison), in response to the vision and energy of Jessica Riddell (3MNTF, 2015), who is Executive Director of the Maple League. This has given me an exciting regional forum in which to apply the skills and expertise that Presidency of STLHE helped me develop at the national level.

Arshad Ahmad | McMaster University, 2010 to 2014

Arshad Ahmad photo

Prior to his current role as Vice Chancellor of LUMS University, Dr. Arshad Ahmad served for 5 years as Vice Provost, Teaching and Learning, and Director of the MacPherson Institute at McMaster University in Canada. He also serves as a board member for Academics Without Borders and Chair of Teaching and Learning Canada. Arshad received a lifetime 3M National Teaching Fellowship in 1992 and went on to coordinate the Fellowship Program in 2010 for the next 10 years. He is past President of the STLHE (2010-2014) and Vice President of the International Consortium of Educational Developers. He completed his MBA and PhD in Educational Psychology at McGill University, Canada. Arshad was an Associate Professor of finance at Concordia University and Professor of Finance at McMaster University. His research interests are in student evaluations of teaching, approaches to teaching, teaching philosophies and pedagogical partnerships.

STLHE has been a great teacher. It is difficult to tease out ‘notable impact’ since that began a long time before I became President. Since I joined STLHE in the late 80’s, like a migratory bird I would go to the annual conference, and never missed one until 2015. I stayed deeply engaged for ten years as the program coordinator for the 3M National Teaching Fellowships during which time the impact through sheer proximity of fellows became inimitable. These were formative years that shaped my tenure as President. And what a privilege to learn from leaders amongst students, teachers, administrators, and senior managers across sectors and in international settings. During this time, I lost track of the towns, cities and the regions across Canada where we did our work. But looking back, those years engendered a deeper sense of being Canadian given the incredible diversity and traditions of Canada that were on full display. In that sense STLHE has been quintessentially a national mosaic, a big tent welcoming new colleagues but always strengthening its community. If there are life lessons learned from STLHE, one is to never underestimate students. Another is the additive value of transdisciplinary learning. And while all of this helped me in subsequent leadership appointments as Vice Provost and now Vice Chancellor, the most valuable lesson came as gifts in the form of mentorship and fellowship that are above all immeasurable and of infinite impact.

Joy Mighty | Queen’s University, 2007 to 2010

Joe Mighty photo

Dr Joy Mighty is Senior Scholar for Innovation in Teaching and Learning at Carleton University and holds a joint appointment as a Full Professor in the Sprott School of Business and the Pauline Jewett Institute of Women’s and Gender Studies in the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences. She previously served as the Associate Vice-President (Teaching and Learning). Prior to her work at Carleton, Dr Mighty served as Director of the Centre for Teaching and Learning and Professor in the School of Business at Queen’s University. She was also the coordinator of the Teaching and Learning Centre and a professor in the Faculty of Business Administration at the University of New Brunswick.

Dr Mighty has an eclectic academic background and a wealth of experience as an administrator, teacher, educational developer, researcher and consultant. A past president of the STLHE, she was also the inaugural chair of the Educational Developers Caucus and Canada’s representative on the Council of the International Consortium for Educational Development. She has received awards for excellence in teaching, research, professional service and leadership, and is a frequently sought keynote speaker. Her special interests are organizational development and change, as well as equity, diversity and the scholarship of teaching and learning.

As an immigrant woman of colour whose social identity represents an intersection of ethnicity, gender and race, diversity and inclusivity are core values underlying my personal philosophy of life and, by extension, of education. These have been the focus of much of my work as an academic: my research, teaching, and administrative, professional and community service. As STLHE/SAPES president, I was struck by members’ multidimensional diversity including academic roles and disciplines, types of institutions, geography, and social identity. I therefore incorporated these values in my leadership, seeking to achieve unity in diversity through Collective Leadership.

Most traditional approaches to leadership assume that the leader is an all-knowing individual in some position of power in the organizational hierarchy, one who has access to all the information relevant to making effective decisions for the organization’s benefit. This assumption is flawed on multiple grounds, not least of which are the limitations, imperfections, and fallibility of the human being. Moreover, such approaches are ineffective for dealing with the complexity and wicked problems of organizations in the 21st century. Much more effective is an integrative approach characterized by diversity and inclusivity. Collective Leadership harnesses the diversity of people, cultures, perspectives, disciplines and skills to achieve previously unimaginable integration and unity, without uniformity.

During my presidency, STLHE/SAPES adopted inclusivity as a guiding principle and we practised Collective Leadership by actively involving the Board, its constituents, Special-Interest-Groups (SIGs), students, and all other members in decisions about the organization’s direction. On a personal level, Collective Leadership led to numerous friendships that I value to this day.

Julia Christensen Hughes | University of Guelph, 2004 to 2007

Julia Christensen Hughes photo

I joined the faculty of the University of Guelph in 1987, teaching courses in human resource management, organizational behaviour and strategy.  After several years studying these issues within for profit enterprise, I started asking myself questions about the university as an organization.  What was its purpose (stated and lived)?  To what extent were its systems in alignment with these goals?  To what extent was it serving the needs and expectations of its stakeholders, including society in general?  In an effort to answer these questions, and effect positive change, I became a national and international advocate for better valuing teaching and learning, providing students with transformational learning experiences, and upholding standards of integrity (in order to protect the value of degrees conferred and research results disseminated). During this time, I served as president of the Society for Teaching and Learning in Higher Education (STLHE) and co-edited (with Joy Mighty) Taking Stock: Research on Teaching and Learning in Higher Education.

In 2007, I was appointed Chair of a newly formed Department of Management, followed by ten years as dean, of the recently named Gordon S. Lang School of Business and Economics.  In this role I oversaw the development of what was considered a unique vision for a business school; “to be and develop leaders for a sustainable world” along with the guiding pillars of transformational learning, research with impact, and authentic community engagement. In 2015, I had the pleasure of addressing the United Nations General Assembly on the potential for business schools to become a positive force for good in the world.  In 2018 and 2019, Lang’s MBA was ranked by Corporate Knights as one of the most sustainable in the world.  Now on administrative leave, I am working with others to champion further change, including better aligning university rankings with the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDG’s).

Being President of STLHE provided me with my first real taste of advocacy on both an institutional and national level. It showed me that committed people can effect substantial positive change. Building on the groundbreaking work of STLHE presidents who had come before, I welcomed the opportunity to champion “making teaching count”. I also spent a lot of time thinking about STLHE as an organization – and the need for a more sustainable business model and governance structure. Launching an institutional membership drive, establishing a professional secretariat and beginning a process of incorporation were important activities of the board during my time as President. The concept for the book “Taking Stock” also arose at an STLHE conference. I came to see ineffective teaching practices as an “inconvenient truth” that would require a concerted effort to change.

Following my time as President, I took my passion for advocacy into university administration, including serving as founding dean of the Gordon S. Lang School of Business and Economics from 2009 to 2019. In this role I continued to champion curricular and pedagogical innovation and the design of innovative learning spaces.

Now on administrative leave I am working on the need to better align institutional, provincial and global systems (such as metrics, rankings and accreditation) in support of the UN’s 2030 SDG agenda. I am also working with Joy Mighty and Denise Stockley on a second edition of Taking Stock. There is no question that STLHE had an Incredible impact on my career and I will be forever grateful for what I learned and for the wonderful people I had the pleasure of creating change with.

Gary Poole | University of British Columbia, 2000 to 2004

Gary Poole photo

Gary was the president of STLHE between 2000 and 2004. He is currently a professor emeritus in the School of Population and Public Health in the Faculty of Medicine and Senior Scholar in the Centre for Health Education Scholarship at the University of British Columbia. He has also served as the president of the International Society for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning. He has received career achievement awards from both societies. Gary is also a 3M National Teaching Fellow (1994). Gary has also served as a co-editor of the journal, Teaching and Learning Inquiry.

In the early 2000s, STLHE embarked on a process designed to build a strategic plan. We created four “pillars” upon which to build the plan. One was that we would support the scholarship of teaching and learning. That particular focus became very influential for me as I began to see my work in terms of a marriage between educational development and SoTL. It has been that way for me ever since—learning about scholarly approaches to teaching and learning, conducting SoTL research, and helping others do the same.

Pat Rogers | York University, 1995 to 2000

Pat Rogers photo

Pat Rogers served the Society as a Board member for ten years, including five as President at a time when the membership among faculty was increasing. To provide various member groups with greater opportunities to contribute to the work of the Society in advocating for teaching, she worked with the Board to develop the constitution and the Making Teaching Count initiative. Pat is a 3M Teaching Fellow, and has been a professor of mathematics at several Canadian and UK universities. She has published in the areas of mathematics, mathematics education, gender, and university teaching and learning. She was founding academic director of York University’s Centre for the Support of Teaching and, following her retirement from York in 2001, Pat was dean of education at the University of Windsor, retiring from that position in 2011 to be Associate Vice President Teaching and Learning at Wilfrid Laurier. Pat has been retired for good for almost five years and is still trying to figure out what that means.

Being President of STLHE, working with so many dedicated and selfless individuals, increased my belief in ability of the field of university education to change in progressive and inclusive ways. On a more personal level, it introduced me to some wonderful people who genuinely care about teaching and each other, and who have become life-long friends.

Christopher Knapper | University of Waterloo, 1981 to 1988

Christopher Knapper photo

Christopher Knapper was the founding president of STLHE from 1984 to 1988, and served on the Board for over 20 years. He is a 3M Teaching Fellow, and on his retirement the Knapper Lifetime Achievement Award was created in his honour.  As first chair of the STLHE Publications Committee he initiated the Green Guides series, edited many of the guides, and co-authored the first guide to be published jointly with STLHE’s sister society in Australia (HERDSA). He has been a Professor of Psychology at several Canadian universities, and taught undergraduates throughout his academic career. Chris was the first director of educational development at the University of Waterloo and at Queen’s, and one of the founders of the International Consortium for Educational Development (ICED). He was an initial editor of the International Journal for Academic Development from 1994 to 2004 and has published a wide range of books and journal articles on university teaching and learning. Since his retirement from Queen’s in 2002 he has had an active consulting career in many parts of the world, including Europe, North America, and Asia, and the Middle East. He is currently Professor Emeritus of Psychology at Queen’s University, and Director Emeritus of the Queen’s Centre for Teaching and Learning.

My involvement with STLHE has allowed me to meet and work with committed university teachers across Canada and in many parts of the world.