Academic List-O-Gratitude 2019

This week I will upload the final grades for the courses I taught this semester. I will also host the last of my meetings with my grad students, and attend my final committee meetings of 2019. And when I close my office door for the last time this year, I’m going to saunter home feeling rather good about the year that was.

As I did last year, I’ve decided that I need to spend some time taking stock, reflecting on the year that was, and all of the great things that came with it. To be perfectly honest, I feel the need to do this in part because the last month has been incredibly stressful, and I have a tendency to focus only on the tiniest of negatives in an otherwise abundant year of positives.

And so dear reader, I present to you my 2019 Academic List-O-Gratitude. For those keeping count, do not assume that any item that was on the list last year that has not made it to this year’s list is no longer something for which I am grateful – quite the contrary. Instead, consider this list an extension of last year’s.

  • This year I celebrated 25 years at the University of Guelph; first as a student, and now as faculty. While I won’t pretend that every day on campus has been or will be amazing, it’s still incredible to me that I managed to find a home here a quarter century ago. The students, staff, and faculty of UofG have helped me become the man I am today, and they continue to challenge me to be the best version of me I can be.
  • What better way to celebrate 25 years on campus than by spending the 25th year on sabbatical. As I’ve mentioned before, I wasn’t aware how much I needed sabbatical until I was in it. The break from teaching and service commitments was exactly what I needed to refocus my energies, and come back to the classroom and my research programs energized. Beyond that, sabbatical allowed me the chance to catch up with myself, to breathe and reprioritize, and to remember the importance of life-work balance. How fortunate is it that I had the opportunity to take this time away.

Of course, being on sabbatical doesn’t mean that I wasn’t working. With the freedom that sabbatical provided, I was able to get involved in some rather amazing extra-curricular things.

  • I had the privilege of hosting the School of Computer Science’s inaugural Alumni Awards Night. The biennial event celebrated the success of some of our alumni, and it was honestly a fantastic night full of lots of laughter. It was extremely satisfying to finally take time to celebrate how far the School has come in its almost 50 year history.
  • The Improve Life Challenge – which evolved out of GuelphHacks and the various incarnations of interdisciplinary hackathons that I’ve co-organized over the years – ran for the 2nd time this year. And because of the work of an incredible team, it was a huge success for both students and our community partners. Most importantly, it gave me the opportunity to wear my triceratops academic research onesie at a formal event.
  • One of my favourite events this year was the Gryphons Gifts event. Supported in part by the Gryphons Care Initiative, faculty and staff ran around campus filling drink and food orders for students studying during exams. It felt incredible to witness the joy on the students faces when I dropped off their orders – especially as I kept returning to the Library as more and more students realized that this was actually happening. As an added bonus, we held the 2nd Gryphons Gifts event during the most recent exam period – this time with special notes from alumni who donated to buy students breakfast.
Pint of Science Guelph, 2019
  • I worked with an awesome team to bring Pint Of Science to Guelph for the very first time this past May, and found myself overwhelmed at how much the community supported it. More than 400 people came out to celebrate science. And because of the demand, we held a one-off Pint of Science (called Pint-Sized Science) in November. And yes, we’re going to hold another one-off in February, prior to the full fledged world-wide 2020 Pint of Science celebrations. Guelph clearly loves science. How can I not be grateful for that?

From a research and teaching perspective, this year has been rather fantastic as well.

  • As with 2018, so many of the students that I get to work with have been recognized for the amazing work they do. This includes travel awards, recognitions for academic excellence, scholarships, and more. I am incredibly proud of them, not just because they are academically strong, but because they have heart, because they continually demonstrate their belief in supporting the community both on and off-campus, and because they are genuinely incredible humans. I learn so much from working with them. They are a huge part of why I feel that I have one of the best jobs in the world.
  • While on sabbatical, I was able to revamp the community-engaged CIS3750 classroom. This included developing a course manual that incorporated community-engaged learning within and around the typical tools and methods the students need to learn in the course. It also included writing two successful grants to explore immediate feedback tools in the classroom – which I hope to be able to present at next year’s Teaching & Learning Innovations conference.
  • I had the opportunity to publish seven papers with my students in 2019 – and there are several more that are in the review pipeline. This included one paper that has been in the review process for years! I’d like to say that being on sabbatical helped this along, but I think it’s more a reflection of the students I get to work with.

Outside of all things academic, I had the chance to go skydiving this year with some of my students. While this was not my first time jumping out of a perfectly good airplane, it was for the students. Being able to share that sort of experience with my students is a privilege, and I’m incredibly grateful that they’d want to share it with me. Of course, given that I went bungee jumping with my students in 2018, I clearly have my work cut out for me to live up to this standard in 2020.

Finally, 2019 was incredibly humbling in the best possible ways. Late this year I was honoured to receive an OCUFA Teaching Award. While the official awards ceremony was a lot of fun (and required me to wear a fancy boutonniere), the part of this award for which I’m most grateful has nothing to do with the event itself or the framed certificate I received. In fact, I am most grateful for the letters of support I received from community partners, staff, faculty, and most importantly, students. I read them more frequently than you might expect, and every time I’m overwhelmed by the words that are written. I’m not sure I always recognize the person they see, but I accept their challenge to live up to the person they’ve described.

Without a doubt, I have so many things for which to be grateful – many more than can be written here. Importantly, however, is that everything written here is the result of an incredible team. I wouldn’t be celebrating these successes without the hard work of an incredible village and I am so damn lucky that I get to work with each and every one of them.

To the team of nerds who have made this year so great – thank you for your trust in me, thank you for pushing me, thank you for leading by example, and thank you for being genuinely kick-ass humans. It is an honour to work with and learn from each and every one of you.

Thank you for an incredible 2019. And here’s to a fantastic 2020!

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