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Alumni: Giving U of T more reasons to be proud


Andrew Dicks wins Joan E. Foley Quality of Student Experience Award

Dr. Andrew Dicks has won the Joan E. Foley Student Experience Award for something he loves to do – providing a sense of community, a sense of belonging for undergraduates at the University of Toronto.

Dr. Dicks joined the Chemistry Department as a lecturer in 2001 and has already won several awards for his classroom work, including a Presidents Teaching Award in 2009, the highest form of instructional recognition at U of T.

In the beginning, he felt giving a great lecture was enough, but soon came to appreciate that “it is equally important, if not more important,” to help students outside the classroom, he said in an interview.

In 2005 Dr. Dicks was invited to be the faculty adviser for the new life science Innis College First-Year Learning Community (FLC). He meets 13 times a year with a group of 15-20 students to provide guidance about academic and non-academic matters.

“I adore that program,” he said. “You can see that the students are really benefiting from it.”  He and fellow chemistry lecturer Scott Browning at St. Michael’s College are the only two original faculty advisers still participating in the program.

He liked it so much he adapted it for chemistry undergraduates and created a Chemistry Course Community in which small groups of first-year students meet regularly under the guidance of an upper-level undergraduate mentor. Sessions address topics such as report writing and careers in chemistry but also include opportunities to attend social events.

The program “helps ease the transition from high school,” Dr. Dicks said. It is really about ‘what chemistry can do for you.’  It’s about giving advice, showing respect and showing how super friendly chemistry is. It’s ultimately about being there for them.”

Dr. Dicks also spends 25-30 hours a week providing one-on-one mentoring for first year chemistry students after each term test. They discuss study strategies but also more fundamental issues about student life, including the problems associated with commuting. The University of Toronto is a large institution but in fact is made of up small communities that students can find if they are proactive, he says. In terms of mentoring, he suggests to students: “if you want the time, you’ve got it.”

Dr. Dicks also championed the introduction of the Writing Instruction for Teaching Assistants (WIT) program five years ago, giving TAs better training on how to evaluate the writing of undergraduate students. “It’s made a world of difference,” he says, with students really appreciating the greater feedback they get on their writing.

The Joan E. Foley Quality of Student Experience Award is a tribute to Professor Joan Foley, the first female principal at the University of Toronto Scarborough and the first female provost at U of T.  Her career at the University spanned over 40 years during which time she remained dedicated to working with students to develop an enriching over-all educational experience in and out of the classroom. The award named in her honour upon her retirement recognizes a member of the University community who has made a distinctive and outstanding contribution to enhancing the quality of the undergraduate or graduate student experience at U of T.

The Joan Foley Award and several others including the Faculty Award and the Chancellor’s Award were united under the banner of Awards of Excellence in the 1990’s.  This prestigious award program annually recognizes the outstanding members of the University of Toronto community who have made rich and meaningful contributions to the University, their communities and to the world.

The central Alumni Relations office administers and manages all aspects of the Awards of Excellence program, including co-ordinating the vital contributions of other stakeholder groups from across the University.

Dr. Dicks and all other 2014 Awards of Excellence recipients will be honoured at a ceremony at the Isabel Bader Theatre on April 1.