Posted on May 3, 2011 by Tia Lalani

On April 18, Kim Fordham was informed that she had received the Rutherford Award. This is how she responded.

On April 18, Augustana Professor Kim Fordham was informed that she had received the University of Alberta’s highest honour for excellence in undergraduate teaching: the Rutherford Award. The award is based on how former students, colleagues who have watched her teach, and colleagues across the country respond to and value her teaching.

“I think that’s the key,” Kim says about the award. “It is a valuing that comes from all levels. Students may not remember the grammar rules that they learned in German class, but they remember that my teaching has to do with the whole person.”

The morning she learned about the award, a former student came by Kim’s office to have coffee. She wanted to personally express her appreciation of the role Kim played in her life as a professor and a mentor. “Attached to that,” Kim says, “she gave me the letter that she wrote for the Rutherford award. It’s very moving to read all that. Then, that afternoon, I got the phone call.” The graduate’s letter proves that Kim’s students still find value in what she taught.

“Through your teaching and your example,” writes the former student, “you have shown me what it means to be a woman of strength, compassion and courage. With your encouragement and guidance, I have learned to think critically and ask questions instead of simply following along with what everyone else thinks.” This is what Kim aims for, what she does: she teaches critical thinking in order to create citizens for the world. “I have realized the importance of speaking out on societal issues,” the author continues. “I have found the strength to use my voice and help those who have lost theirs.”

Kim’s professorial lecture, held on March 31, was about giving people a voice – a language – because it opens doors to new cultures to new ideas to new places that they haven’t imagined. She lists students who have gone on to play and coach hockey in Germany, or work in German environmental firms. “That’s a key part of what I do, and it’s a very political thing,” explains Kim. “A big part of my job is about breaking down people’s cultural stereotypes.” She refers to a Jewish student she met who was raised to hate everything German. However, he took a class at university, enrolled in the Canadian Summer School in Germany (CSSG), and thought critically. “He went on to do his Masters’ in Germany,” she laughs. “You know that his children will be raised very differently. That’s the political part of giving students a language – it is changing the world.”

Kim’s devotion to giving people a language is closely related to her research and personal life. Her studies in the literature of trauma and violence are intended to get people talking about the subject. With her own history of abuse and violence that she addresses in presentations “all over the place”, she is committed to giving people the ability to talk about something that they haven’t been able to discuss.

Kim has taught German at Augustana since 1991 and was recognized with an Augustana Distinguished Teaching Award in 2000. She is also the volunteer director of the CSSG. This year, she was not only appointed a full professor but was confirmed for a second term as Chair of the Augustana humanities department before she received word of the Rutherford award.

“Having them in the order that they came was important,” Kim says. “The full professor evaluation came first – so I was granted the full professor regardless of the fact that I was successfully reappointed as chair and regardless of the fact that I got the Rutherford Teaching Award.”

It is a lot of work to assemble the nomination package. She pulls out a packed one-inch binder, divided with little coloured tabs. “This is my teaching dossier, so this is what gets sent out to the external evaluators,” says Kim. “It has everything I’ve taught at Augustana – course descriptions, syllabi, samples of student work, student and peer evaluations, research in scholarship of teaching, letters from co-teachers, responses to guest lectures, professional development, various thank-you letters and cards.” Even a quick glance reveals the amount of detail and passion Kim puts in to everything she does.

“I think it’s a big deal for Augustana,” says Kim. “We have a Rutherford Teaching Award winner here. The more that the University acknowledges Augustana people in this way, the better off we are.” She mentioned examples such as physics professor Ian Blokland’s 2009 Provost’s Award for Early Achievement of Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching and head librarian Nancy Goebel’s 2009 Excellence in Learning Support Award. These awards mean that Augustana’s tradition of excellence in undergraduate teaching – celebrated in their own awards before the merger – is being recognized within the larger sphere of the University of Alberta.

“It’s exciting to think about what my teaching means: what it means to me and what it means to students,” Kim smiles. “The day after I heard, I wanted to celebrate with my students in some way. I went and bought each of my students a flower. It is the students – the wonderful students that I have – that make my job so much fun, that make it possible for me to win awards.”

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