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Approachable, friendly LU prof the tops

BY HEIDI ULRICHSEN Not even a painful injury could keep Laurentian University psychology professor Cynthia Whissell away from the classroom. After breaking her hand last fall, Whissell got treatment and was back with her students the same day.
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"I feel bad getting so many congratulations for doing something I enjoy this much," said Cynthia Whissell, named best professor at Laurentian University.

BY HEIDI ULRICHSEN

Not even a painful injury could keep Laurentian University psychology professor Cynthia Whissell away from the classroom.

After breaking her hand last fall, Whissell got treatment and was back with her students the same day.
 
"She went to the emergency room, she had her hand casted, and she was back teaching her class before we even knew that she was hurt," said psychology department chair Elizabeth Levin.

Whissell's dedication has paid off. She's the winner of the 2005/06 Laurentian University Teaching Excellence Award after being nominated by students and colleagues.

She will be presented with a plaque at graduation ceremonies in June.

The veteran professor seemed almost embarrassed by the attention as well-wishers lined up to congratulate her at a reception in her honour Wednesday afternoon.

"I feel bad getting so many congratulations for doing something I enjoy this much," said Whissell, as she greeted a colleague.

Whissell, who has been teaching at Laurentian  since 1969, is the author of many peer-reviewed articles.

"Both my parents were teachers, and I taught Sunday school from the time I was 12 and all the way through high school. Plus, when I went to grad school, they gave you teaching training," she said.

"I enjoy teaching because every September you get to create a new world. You and the students work on something, and you get somewhere by the end of the year."

The professor has learned a lot from her students.

"For example, with computer expertise, students have showed me a lot of things I would not know how to do," she said.

"We were also talking about a favourite past student at lunch today who is a goldsmith. He used to tell us about his experience goldsmithing, and that was fascinating."

Whissell has taught so many students over the years, they probably number "in the six figures, if you roughly estimate 300 students a year over 30 years," said Levin.

The professor is incredibly versatile, and could probably teach every course in the psychology department, Levin said.

Stephanie Pagan, who is finishing up a master's degree in human development, said she owes much of her success to Whissell.

The professor is Pagan's thesis supervisor, and helped her get into a psychology PhD program.
 
Pagan is mostly interested in becoming a researcher, but if she ends up teaching, Whissell will be her role model.

"She's always very easy to understand, and she takes very difficult concepts, and she's able to transform them for the students so that they're able to understand," she says.

Anna-Liisa Mottonen, also a master's student in human behaviour, took several classes with Whissell while completing her undergraduate degree in psychology.

"She was a lot of fun as a teacher. She never acted superior or arrogant about her position. Just because she's educated and has so much experience, she never held it above your head," said Mottonen.

"She was always very approachable and very friendly, and that was nice."