July 31, 2019

Cynthia Prasow receives Order of the University of Calgary

Werklund School instructor acknowledged for philanthropy, collaboration and mentorship

Teachers, Cynthia Prasow (MEd‘92) says, are asked to play many parts in the practice of their profession. Beyond educator, they also serve as role models, mentors and counsellors.

“The expectations are high so it’s a lot of pressure,” she acknowledges.

Prasow understands these roles well as she has excelled in all of them during her time with the Calgary Board of Education and as an instructor in the Werklund School of Education. She also knows that teachers entering the field today are up to the challenge.

In her position as Director of Student Experiences in the Werklund School, she works closely with undergraduate students and is often the first point of contact when they run into unforeseen hurdles during their studies.

Guiding students through unexpected financial crises, the sudden death of a parent or child or the isolation of post-secondary life for those without familial support are some of the challenges she has encountered over the years.

While these trials are numerous and complex, what they have in common and, what Prasow finds most satisfying about her position, is the students’ dedication to achieving their goal of becoming a teacher

“Individual students may arrive in my office distraught, scared or unsure of which way to turn, however, it is very evident that they are wholly on board to work through the problems and resolve them as soon as they can.”

It is this determination that is the hallmark of a good teacher, and good teachers are essential as they have significant influence on students – especially during the early school years.

“If you think of the number of hours teachers spend with the students in their class, then it becomes very clear that they have the capacity to often have the greatest impact on the children.  We need to raise the profile of early childhood education and keep reminding the community that early childhood is the foundational piece of the future education of children.”

Prasow is walking the talk with the Cynthia Prasow Scholarship in Early Childhood Education. This prize is given annually to a student graduating from the Werklund School’s Bachelor of Education program and she is working with the development office to have it endowed so that it can be awarded in perpetuity.

“Giving back has always been a part of my life.  My parents modeled that to me at an early age,” she says, adding, “I think giving, volunteering and looking out for others who may be less fortunate should be part of the curriculum!  We need to model the importance of giving and volunteering in the early grades.”

Modeling behavior is not only essential for philanthropy but also a technique Prasow employs to mentor her students.  

“I have always been a big believer in mentorship in all aspects of teaching whether it is in schools as practicing teachers or as preservice teachers.  One way of mentoring students, within the realm of our program, is to model what it means to be a professional.”

Encouraging students to attend and present at conferences or volunteer on education councils are a few of the ways Prasow has helped them further their professional development.

“I often find that the students who volunteer their time are the students who become future leaders in teaching and in the greater community.”

Prasow’s mentorship of students does not end when they graduate, she continues to connect with and support them as they move into their careers. During her time as the inaugural director of the Partner Research Schools initiative, she established networks with schoolboards, government representatives and community leaders across the province to raise the profile of the Werklund School and advocate for research.

“To me, PRS has epitomized the importance of collaboration between the Werklund School and teaching professionals across the province for the promotion of innovation through research-active inquiry and practice.”

In this position she often found herself working with former students, several of whom, with her encouragement, returned to UCalgary to pursue graduate degrees.

When asked what she is most proud of during her time at the university, Prasow characteristically speaks of the students.

“Each time I go to convocation and the processional begins with the students, I feel extremely emotional and immense pride for what they have accomplished, many under extreme circumstances and sacrifices.”

On June 4, the tables were turned when, surrounded by family, friends and dozens, if not hundreds, of students who she guided through their studies, Prasow was honoured with the Order of the University of Calgary in recognition of her longstanding record of exemplary service.

As to why she was singled out for this significant acknowledgement, Prasow chooses not to speculate, but if the exuberant cheers and number of tears wiped away during the ceremony were any indication, the choice was a good one.

While the spotlight is not a position Prasow has sought, her continuing accomplishments may require that she get comfortable with one more role – at centre stage.