Sept. 30, 2019

Olympian-turned-instructor wins two teaching awards

Cari Din encourages her kinesiology students to challenge their own thinking
Cari Din
Cari Din Adrian Shellard, for the University of Calgary

With her mother, both grandmothers and a great grandmother all teachers, it’s likely no surprise that Dr. Cari Din, PhD, ended up in front of a class, too. But the instructor in the Faculty of Kinesiology, who has just won both a University of Calgary Teaching Award and a Student’s Union Teaching Excellence award, didn’t start out teaching.

“I didn’t take a traditional path at all,” says Din, who became a full-time faculty member last summer. “I am a late bloomer in everything. What’s beautiful is I never knew that this is where I was going to be. I don’t have an education undergrad and I keep stumbling toward whatever it is I am supposed to become.”

Din was an athlete, winning a silver medal in the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta in synchronized swimming (now known as artistic swimming).

“My mom was a phys-ed teacher and she put me into synchronized swimming. I didn’t know what it was but she thought it was a good fit, and it was,” says Din. “I tried it when I was eight. I was terrible but I did it once or twice a week in Grade 3 and then in Grade 4 I was hooked.” As a teenager she started coaching the sport and coached part-time for more than 20 years, including a stint with the Dinos artistic swimming team.

In 2009, Din started teaching at the university as a sessional instructor. Moving from the pool deck to the classroom wasn’t a giant leap. “For me, my best teaching looks like my best coaching and when I was coaching full time my best coaching looked like teaching,” she says. “Building a relationship with an athlete is the beginning of them finding their potential and I would say it’s the same with a student.”

Din encourages students to draw on their personal experiences and she gently challenges them on their thinking. “Cari's class taught me how to be an effective critical thinker,” says Emma Partridge, a fourth-year student who took two leadership courses with Din when she was a sessional instructor. Partridge became a “more confident and powerful writer” and her grades improved in other classes.

“I was better able to understand, analyze and reflect on the material being taught to me,” she says. “I feel as though Cari's class has set me up for real-world success beyond the academic world.”

Din is thrilled to receive the UCalgary Teaching Award, an honour that includes her in the Teaching Academy, a community of practice at the Taylor Institute for Teaching and Learning. “It’s a magnificent centre; it’s an incredible space and place that values teaching,” she says. Din is also chuffed to win a third SU award. “It doesn’t get old.”

Good teaching is all about connecting with students, she says: “We get the voice at the front of the room so how do you make sure that people feel welcome and included but also challenged — that’s what a learning environment looks like.”

The University of Calgary Teaching Awards recognize and celebrate outstanding contributions to teaching and learning. There are 13 diverse award categories that recognize teaching excellence in diverse learning contexts by individuals and groups. The nomination deadline is Jan. 23, 2020. The Taylor Institute for Teaching and Learning offers nomination support workshops starting in November.  Visit the Taylor Institute calendar for more information.