StFX’s Dr. Erin Austen recognized for highest ideals of teaching excellence with 3M national award

Dr. Erin Austen
Dr. Erin Austen

Dr. Erin Austen, a StFX psychology professor and department chair, is the recipient of the 3M National Teaching Fellowship, Canada’s most prestigious recognition of excellence in educational leadership and teaching at the post-secondary level.

The 3M National Teaching Fellows embody the highest ideals of teaching excellence and scholarship with a commitment to encourage and support the educational experience of every learner. Up to 10 Fellows are selected annually.

“I am grateful to have been considered for the 3M Fellowship, and for the support that I received from colleagues and students, and so excited to have been accepted into the fellowship. I know from my colleagues who are 3M Fellows, including Dr. Angie Kolen and Dr. Ann Bigelow here at StFX, there is a strong sense of community and collaborative spirit that exists within each 3M cohort,” says Dr. Austen who has been a valued member of the StFX Psychology Department since 2005. She is also a StFX graduate from the Class of 1996. 

“I am really looking forward to meeting the rest of this year’s cohort and, in particular, am looking forward to the opportunities that the fellowship brings to build strong relationships with the members of this external teaching community – a community that is widely known for their passion and commitment to teaching excellence, innovation, and educational leadership.” 

The good news was most welcomed among StFX colleagues and students.

“StFX is a better place to teach and learn because of Dr. Austen. Over the years, Erin has quietly and selflessly worked to create various opportunities for students, faculty, and teaching staff to become better at what they do, while fostering an environment of inclusion,” StFX human kinetics professor and 2010 3M Fellow, Dr. Angie Kolen, reflected in her nomination. 

Dr. Karen Brebner, StFX psychology professor and former Dean of Arts, described her colleague as a consummate professional and an outstanding educator whose impact on students and the entire institution cannot be overstated. 

“I can’t think of anyone more deserving of being recognized with such a prestigious award. Erin does not seek the spotlight or expect to be recognized for her efforts on behalf of her students and colleagues. She is simply a person who quietly, and thoughtfully, wants to make a difference, and is willing to serve when the need arises.”

Dr. Brebner says before Dr. Austen became the departmental chair, she acted as the student advisor for hundreds of psychology students who met with her over the years to choose their courses and seek her advice. She personally inspired countless students to study psychology and is in high demand to supervise honours thesis projects. Her courses fill up immediately, as she has developed a reputation for offering interactive classes, exciting projects, and innovative research opportunities. 

Dr. Austen can often be found leading her classes around the campus as they discuss the day’s lecture material, and she encourages students to take their work out to the university and surrounding communities to broaden the impact of their discoveries. She is a tireless advocate for equitable, accessible, and inclusive pedagogy, and she was awarded StFX’s Outstanding Teaching Award in 2017-2018.

She also continues to seek out training to improve her skills, and through her work with the Teaching and Learning Centre, selflessly shares her knowledge with her colleagues. “Her efforts have been transformational for many faculty who, inspired by her successes and enthusiasm, apply her methods to their own classes,” Dr. Brebner says. 

Former student Tara Martin, who wrote a letter of support, says Dr. Austen cares deeply for her students and their learning, as well as the greater university community, which is reflected in the way she teaches.

“Dr. Austen is passionate about the accessibility of education and how barriers can be removed for those seeking to access higher learning. I feel fortunate to have had a professor who fostered such an inclusive learning environment and who supported and encouraged me in my own learning and in my career path. Dr. Austen is both a leader and innovator in education and an excellent teacher.”

Prior to staring her career at StFX in 2005, Dr. Austen was a teaching assistant at the University of British Columbia during her graduate school days and taught her first full course at Yukon College (now Yukon University), an experience that she says she is grateful to have had.  

The 3M Fellow was established in 1986, when the Society for Teaching and Learning in Higher Education (STLHE) and 3M Canada partnered to recognize exceptional contributions to teaching and learning in Canadian post-secondary education. 

Canada now has more than 360 3M National Teaching Fellows, representing a broad range of academic disciplines from more than 80 small and large Canadian post-secondary institutions. After joining the Fellowship, Fellows continue to elevate teaching and learning at their own institutions and through larger, collaborative initiatives supported by 3M Canada, STLHE, and the Council of Fellows, a constituent group within STLHE.