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Award-winning prof values student involvement

By Mark Kerr, Senior Communications Officer

Catherine Donnelly (OT’95, PhD’13), the first female recipient of the Alumni Award for Excellence in Teaching in 15 years, refers to a Chinese proverb to summarize her teaching philosophy: “Tell me and I forget. Show me and I remember. Involve me and I understand.”

[Catherine Donnelly]Catherine Donnelly, the recipient of the 2014 Alumni Award for Excellence in Teaching, is committed to developing new teaching and learning strategies. Photo by Bernard Clark

“The quotation embodies my deep value of student involvement and engagement in learning,” says Dr. Donnelly, whose School of Rehabilitation Therapy colleague Terry Krupa was the last female recipient in 1999. “From observing students apply their knowledge to complex and dynamic clinical situations, I am continually reminded of the power of student involvement and contextual learning.”

Dr. Donnelly began teaching at the School of Rehabilitation Therapy in 2004. Her current teaching focuses on the physical determinants of occupation, the lived experience of disability and clinical reasoning.

While she has always been committed to active learning, Dr. Donnelly is now more confident in her ability to develop new teaching and learning strategies and move away from traditional lecture-based formats. She also draws on her experience as an occupational therapist with the Queen’s Family Health Team – Belleville to show students ways they can integrate theory into practice.

“I get an incredible amount of satisfaction watching students as they move through the process of being exposed to new ideas and then applying and integrating this knowledge,” she says. “It is such a privilege to be part of their journey and I am continually struck by my own learning that occurs.”

Ally Reneau (OT’15), the student who nominated Dr. Donnelly for the award, says she was impressed by her professor’s ability to engage the entire class.

“Her lectures were interactive as she frequently fostered opportunities for class discussions and encouraged students to ask questions when clarification was needed,” says Ms. Reneau. “Additionally, she catered to various learning styles by utilizing different mediums.”

In addition to teaching and clinical work, Dr. Donnelly conducts research in the interrelated areas of primary care, knowledge translation and interprofessional education, and collaborative practice. She says teaching, clinical work and research all influence one another.

“My in-class teaching is enhanced by relevant clinical examples and research, just as my teaching and clinical work help me ask meaningful research questions,” she says. “Ultimately, I hope it is the patients who most benefit from the integration of teaching and research.”

The Alumni Award for Excellence in Teaching was established in 1975 as the university’s first campus-wide teaching honour.