University of the Fraser Valley

Teaching Excellence 2024: Vanessa Radzimski encourages students to embrace mistakes

Teaching Excellence 2024: Vanessa Radzimski encourages students to embrace mistakes

Dr. Vanessa Radzimski is UFV’s 2024 Teaching Excellence Award winner.

Dr. Vanessa Radzimski believes the best way for students to succeed is to make mistakes and learn from them. It’s a core tenet of her teaching philosophy, along with the idea that students are the best teachers for students. Whether they enter one of Radzimski’s courses with a lot or a little mathematics experience, they find an environment where they can thrive, and that is why she is the 2024 Teaching Excellence Award winner.

“I always relate it to when I learned to ski,” she says. “I’m a Florida girl born and raised who’d never seen snow until I moved to BC in my 20s. The first time I went skiing, without an instructor, it was a painful experience with lots of falling and mistakes. After that, with the help of a great instructor, I learned.

“I always hope my students are willing to challenge themselves and struggle, because I believe moving through challenges is one of the most beautiful parts of learning.”

Since arriving at UFV in 2018, Radzimski has focused on collaborative and peer-to-peer learning that keeps students engaged. She also weaves real-world issues, such as energy consumption and climate change, into classroom activities, homework, and group projects.

Ian Affleck, associate dean in the Faculty of Science, nominated Razminski. He says her classroom serves as a living laboratory, and her approach proves that mathematics can be taught through a lens of social justice. He also commends Radzimski’s commitment to Indigenizing mathematics curriculum.

“She played a central role in team planning for the Fraser Valley Mathematics Education Sq’ep (gathering) conferences at UFV in 2019 and 2020, which brought together elementary and secondary teachers, professors, and teacher education students from the Fraser Valley and beyond,” he writes in his nomination letter. “She also played an active organizing role in the joint UBC/UFV Indigenous Math Symposium/Fraser Valley Sq’ep conferences in 2021 and 2022.”

Affleck describes Radzimski as a role model and mentor for Fraser Valley WEST (Women in Engineering, Science and Technology), and says she’s taken a lead role in organizing the BC Secondary Schools Math Contest and Fraser Valley Regionals Math Challengers competitions.

“She has also volunteered her time to tutor in the UFV Math & Stats Centre, and to share math and logic games, and activities with kids, teachers and parents at evening Math Mania events in the community,” Affleck writes.

Radzimski likes to hear that, but if she is seen as a mentor, she believes it’s because she had so many people modeling that for her.

“I don’t feel as though I have that role, yet, but I wouldn’t be where I am today without the mentors who supported me,” she says. “I value personal relationships because they have been valued to me. I model myself and my practices by those who inspired me, and to think that my students and colleagues perceive me in that way means a lot.”

Twenty-two people have won the Teaching Excellence Award since 2000, including Affleck, who received it in 2017. He says he’ll be proud to see Radzimski join that group.

“When a faculty member studies the pedagogy of their discipline with the passion, energy, and spirit of collaboration that Dr. Radzimski has demonstrated since she began at UFV, the results are exciting and inspiring.”