Thompson Rivers University

Microbiologist joins prestigious national fellowship

May 3, 2022

KAMLOOPS–A biological sciences faculty member now belongs to a fellowship of Canada’s best post-secondary educators.

Microbiologist Naowarat (Ann) Cheeptham is one of 10 recipients — and the first Thompson Rivers University (TRU) academic — to receive this year’s 3M National Teaching Fellowship.

The fellowship is a prestigious honour sponsored by 3M Canada and the Society for Teaching and Learning in Higher Education (STLHE). It is awarded to up to 10 post-secondary academics from across Canada who stand out as exceptional educators and leaders.

While she has become known for her work studying cave microbes as new and potential sources for antimicrobial agents and being part of a collaborative project creating bacterial probiotics as a solution to the white-nose syndrome that is fatal to bats, it was Cheeptham’s work with students as an educator and leader that won her the 3M fellowship.

STLHE administers five awards: the 3M Teaching Fellowship, 3M Student Fellowship, Desire2Learn (D2L), Alan Blizzard Award and Christopher Knapper Lifetime Achievement Award. TRU faculty have received three of those honours in recent years.

A TRU first

Cheeptham is the first to receive the 3M Fellowship award. She and TRU botanist Lyn Baldwin won the STLHE Desire 2 Learn (D2L) award in 2020 and 2018, respectively. And in 2019, more than 40 university faculty, staff, deans and students were named as recipients of the Alan Blizzard Award for excellence in collective teaching.

Cheeptham said 3M award recipients are invited to a group retreat in fall where they can share knowledge and create connections that will continue to promote leadership and excellence in teaching and learning.

“This award means a lot to me as a visible minority female immigrant scientist, an educator and a mother. The honour of being awarded with a recognition of excellence in educational leadership, teaching and innovation at the post-secondary level in Canada is humbling,” she says.

“I am excited for what is to come. In addition to receiving this lifelong honor of being named a 3M National Teaching Fellow, I will join the leading community of more than 350 teaching fellows across Canada to engage in improving teaching and learning in higher education across Canada.”

Going beyond the classroom

TRU Dean of Science Greg Anderson says the award is well deserved and reflects Cheeptham’s dedication to her teaching excellence and educational leadership and innovation.

“Ann has been instrumental in creating student learning activities that go well beyond the bounds of the classroom and includes undergraduate and graduate research activities, organizing a field school and outreach education of recent immigrants. She demonstrates a commitment to creating learning experiences for a wide breadth of learners,” he says.

“These awards are prestigious and provide the winners with a period of engagement in projects supporting their development, as well as a project related to 3M’s objectives. This also provides exposure at events and conferences for those selected, along with $25,000 for project support.”

TRU President Brett Fairbairn said Cheeptham’s outstanding teaching reflects the best of TRU’s values and commitment to students, teaching and learning.

“Winning one of the top educational awards in Canada shows just how strong TRU’s researchers are as leaders and educators. We are proud to have faculty members such as Dr. Cheeptham at TRU, achieving such recognition,” he says.

Leading excellence in education

Canada has more than 340 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 3M Fellows, a constituent group within STLHE.

“The post-secondary landscape is shifting, and we continue to need exceptional educators and leaders such as these individuals chosen as 2022 3M National Teaching Fellows to facilitate and lead that shift,” said Denise Stockley, STLHE board chair.

“The 3M National Teaching Fellowship honours and celebrates outstanding contributions to teaching and learning in Canadian post-secondary education. This year’s teaching fellows embody the highest ideals of teaching excellence and scholarship and represent a broad range of academic disciplines,” said Penny Wise, president of 3M Canada.

Cheeptham has enhanced her teaching about cave microbes with such collaborations and outreach activities as students creating TRU Ferments, a fermented dinner, and making an art display of bacteria electron micrographs called Microbes aRt us. She shares her curiosity and passion for microbiology with students and colleagues, and strongly believes that leadership and learning are indispensable to each other.

Learning from everyone

“I can only say that I could not have gotten here without others – former, current and future students, and many collaborators and colleagues who have taught me to be flexible and adaptive in my perspectives for both work and life over the years. Most of all, my close friends and family who have always been there and believed in me and having to share me with my passion,” she says.

“I never thought loving what I do would lead me down the path of leadership. I strive for growth and improvement in my career and life, and I aspire to be a leader who leads by example, which involves self- and other-awareness. Learning leads to knowing myself; self-knowledge allows me to use my learned experience and the resulting wisdom to lead. I learn from everyone around me — even from the bacteria that are the microbial subjects of my cave microbiology research. Everything and everyone I encounter every day are my teachers.”

Anderson says Cheeptham engages students in novel ways in and out of the classroom. She also works with recent immigrants in the community, sharing her knowledge and skills beyond the TRU campus. At the same time, she is always seeking to learn more herself.

“Ann has the ability to have students look at science from the perspective of both the community and society and has had an impact far beyond the reaches of TRU. Her support for undergraduate research has been exceptional, helping students launch their learning pathways leading to employment. She continues a path of life-time learning, leading by example.”


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