The good folks at the Society for Teaching and Learning in Higher Education and 3M Canada, who together have awarded the prestigious 3M National Teaching Fellowships for more than 25 years, unveiled a new award this year: the 3M National Student Fellowships.
The call for nominations went out last fall and 10 students were chosen this past spring from the 89 nominations received. The list of those honoured, and their bios, is here.
The students were required to “have demonstrated qualities of outstanding leadership” and to “embrace a vision where the quality of their educational experience can be enhanced in academia and beyond.” I’m not sure exactly what that second bit means, but my interpretation is that the students had to be seen to truly embrace and to take full advantage of their learning opportunities both in and out of the classroom.
To be eligible, students had to be studying full-time at a college or in an undergraduate university program and could not be in the final year of their degrees or diplomas. This latter requirement is meant to allow award winners “to build on their relationships and strengthen the learning community.”
Each of the 10 winners received a $5,000 award to be spent at their discretion; were offered an opportunity to participate in an educational retreat; and were invited to attend the 2012 annual conference of the STLHE, with their expenses covered, held in Montreal near the end of June.
Eight of the 10 winners were able to attend the STLHE conference, where they were officially recognized. I attended the awards presentation and also had the pleasure to sit at the same table as the winners at that night’s banquet – more on that in a moment.
The 3M Canada representative at the awards ceremony admitted that his company – which has been an enthusiastic supporter of the teaching fellowships and proud of its involvement – had some initial misgivings about a student award. But, he said, the company was assuaged when it saw the quality of the nominations and the winners.
The winners were – are – an impressive bunch. They were involved in their student societies, volunteered with community groups, organized campus events, worked with NGOs, and on and on. One of the students had volunteered at a medical clinic in India, another co-founded an international student film group, while a third – one of the students unable to come to Montreal – wasn’t there because he was in Malawi working with Engineers without Borders. It was inspiring and even a bit humbling. What had I accomplished at their age?
I thoroughly enjoyed meeting the student winners and having the chance to talk with them about their experiences. They were articulate, thoughtful, focused, and represented an interesting mix of idealism and ambition. Four of the eight were sporting the red squares of the Quebec student protests. One student had to politely excuse herself before the dinner was over because she had a Skype interview that evening for an internship at Johns Hopkins University.
Most of the students said they were pleased by their educational experiences at university, but at least a couple voiced reservations which seemed to focus more on the university administration than on the teaching side. There was some discussion around the table about the Quebec student strikes, with at least two very vocal supporters and others who appeared reluctant to wade in.
The students had a chance the following day to speak at a plenary session and I heard many regular STLHE conference attendees express how refreshing it was to have these student perspectives and presence at the meeting.
It will be interesting to see how the 3M National Student Fellowships evolve. Winners of the teaching fellowships are encouraged to become members of the Council of 3M National Teaching Fellows, where they can continue to be involved in efforts to promote and enhance teaching – and at least 150 past fellows have done so. This continuing allegiance is understandable, since nearly all 3M Teaching Fellows continue to teach and work in the university or college setting. There is no obvious, similar commonality of interests for the student fellows once they graduate and go on to pursue their separate careers. Regardless, I wish the students well – and encourage faculty members to consider nominating an exceptional student for next year.