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Awarding excellence

A college professor who manages his own attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) has won this year's George Wicken Memorial Teaching Excellence Award -- Centennial College's "teacher of the year" award.
Centennial College massage therapy professor Mark Fox (left) accepts the George Wicken Memorial Teaching Excellence Award from last year's recipient, Dairmund O'Connor, on Nov. 17. The annual award is given to the Centennial professor who best exemplifies the teaching ideals of the late George Wicken.

Massage therapy professor Mark Fox was selected by a jury of peers for his student-centred lessons and focused energy.

Once described as a "poor learner" by his high school teachers and counsellors, Fox was able to overcome his learning disability through Tai Chi. With discipline, he excelled in his dual professions of massage therapist and college professor.

"Overcoming my own huge difficulty with learning has made me a compassionate teacher," says Fox, who recalls copying every paragraph of his textbooks painstakingly by hand to help him retain the information.

Fox began his professional studies at the Canadian College of Massage and Hydrotherapy in 1995 and earned outstanding academic achievement at the private school, thanks to his grueling study habits. The school hired him as a teaching assistant soon after graduating in 1997.

Fox learned to control his ADHD through Tai Chi and other exercises. Prior to diagnosis, he had channeled his manic energy into drumming, and played with several rock and jazz bands, including country and western singer Julian Austin. "Julian had asked me to join him on tour, but I had already paid my tuition to massage school, so I had to decline," Fox says. "After 12 years of drumming, I was on the verge of turning professional -- but I'm certain I made the right decision."

Fox joined Centennial College in 1999, teaching massage therapy part-time until 2003, when he was offered a full-time teaching position. He credits Centennial's Teacher of Adults program with helping him to make the transition to professional teacher -- a program he doesn't hesitate to recommend to anyone who wants to teach part time.

"Mark is a unique problem-solver, very student-centred," says English professor Jon Redfern, who served on the Wicken Award selection committee. "He has an inherent ability to think on his feet."

Fox teaches courses in human anatomy, physiology and pathology, covering complex medical information that would not be out of place in the country's best med schools. The numerous positive submissions made by his students supported his candidacy for the award.

Fox is a big believer in visual materials to reinforce classroom learning, and to maintain focus and structure in the lessons. He uses Blackboard software to construct PowerPoint presentations for his students. Fox admits he does it for himself as much as for the students: "The more of these materials I create, the more efficient I become as a teacher."

"A Tai Chi instructor once told me, 'It's not what I know as a teacher, it's what they can do as students,'" says Fox, explaining that the onus is on the student to demonstrate their knowledge and understanding, and not on the teacher to do all the lecturing.

Fox is delighted to be working at Centennial after teaching at two private schools. He likes the fact that the college underwrites lesson preparation by faculty, and that new teachers can receive helpful support through the Teacher of Adults program. "It's an excellent environment for teaching and learning, and our massage therapy program is second to none."

The Wicken Awards also recognized Matthias Vonarburg, an Environmental Protection Technology student who earned the distinction of being the best student in a Centennial English course this year. The late George Wicken was a Centennial English professor highly respected for his dedication to students and the teaching profession.

The Wicken Awards Dinner has been held annually since 1985 to honour his memory.

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