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Meet the Teaching Excellence Award winners from Engineering

Article by Asiphe Nombewu, Corporate Communication

Two academics at the Faculty to Engineering were recipients of a Distinguished Teacher award. They are Dr Karel Kruger and Dr Robbie Pott.

As one of the 2019 Distinguished Teachers awards winners, Dr Karel Kruger, a lecturer at Stellenbosch University’s Department of Mechanical and Mechatronic Engineering, says he finds great satisfaction in witnessing the development of his students.

Bagging an award in the category “Developing Teacher for the Faculty of Engineering, Kruger says growing up in a household where both parents were teachers meant that teaching would always have a permanent presence in his life.

Launched in 2017, the awards acknowledge lecturers in two categories, “Distinguished Teacher” and “Developing Teacher”, based on their experience and leadership in the scholarship of teaching and learning.

Applicants had to submit a portfolio that demonstrated their reflection on and evidence of four main components: context, students, knowledge and professional growth. They also had to indicate the lessons they had learnt on their journey to becoming excellent teachers.

“I have been teaching formally since my appointment in the Department of Mechanical and Mechatronic Engineering in 2016. However, I taught in informal settings (i.e. small group tutoring and mentoring) since I finished my undergraduate degree in 2010,” says Kruger.

He says it is uplifting to receive this recognition. However, he does not consider such recognition as motivation for striving for excellence in his teaching.

“This has always been driven by my passion for student development. What this award does represent is a reaffirmation of the importance of teaching and facilitating student learning within Stellenbosch University, which inspires me to continue to improve my own contribution to teaching and learning at this institution,” he adds.

He describes the award as a representation of the support of the teaching and learning community at SU, which inspires him and gives him confidence to continue developing his teaching philosophy and initiatives.

With his passion for working with young people, Kruger says he hopes to instil an excitement and passion for learning and wants to encourage his students to find value in knowledge through its application.

Kruger mentions the completion of his PhD and his appointment as the biggest highlights of his academic career. “The teaching of my first lecture was both a terrifying and exhilarating experience at the same time. Another highlight has been the recognition through my teaching award.”

He says his biggest challenges occurred during the three years when he was doing his PhD part-time, when he had to juggle his new appointment as a full academic staff member and the birth of his daughter.

“For my entire teaching career I have enjoyed the continuous support of the teaching and learning community at the Faculty of Engineering. These people have advised and guided me in all my teaching endeavours and initiatives, and it was they who nominated me for this award. For that I am extremely grateful,” he says.

Dr Robbie Pott, a senior lecturer at the Department of Process Engineering, says it is gratifying to be honoured as one of the 12 winners in the SU Teaching Excellence Awards for 2019. Waking away with an award in the category for “Developing teacher”, he says this shows that excellent teaching is encouraged, supported and recognised at SU.

“My main goal is to impart an inquisitiveness and sense of fascination in my students. We have tools at our fingertips to change the world and create new things – I hope to help them realise that they also have access to these tools, and to teach them how to use these,” says Pott.

“I am not only a teacher – I chose to stay in academia because I believe in the impact one can have as a researcher and a lecturer. I spend much of my energy on my research and my postgraduate students. I also enjoy my undergraduate students, and relish the challenge of trying to meet them where they are and induct them into engineering – as they will be the ones building our nation in years to come.”

Pott describes working with young people as a privilege. The lecturer says he has been involved in teaching since he finished his undergraduate studies in 2004, when he started out as a tutor, working in both South Africa and the United Kingdom (UK).

“I was privileged enough to have the opportunity to read for my PhD in the UK, and then bring the ideas and skills I learned home to South Africa. I was an assistant lecturer before my appointment as lecturer at Stellenbosch,” he says.

Pott says it is critically important for one to evaluate your own teaching, and the process one goes through as part of the application. He says he also values feedback from peers and experts in the field, as it helps one hone and enhance one’s teaching and learning methodologies.

“The transition from only doing research to having to balance a full research program with postgraduate students, as well as trying to make an impact in undergraduate teaching was a bit tricky. It is easy to focus on one or the other, but thankfully, I enjoy both.”

He says the award is a reminder that teaching is important to him and it will allow him to refocus on his efforts with his undergraduate students. When he is not teaching, Pott attends escape rooms with friends. These involve problem solving and teamwork.

Drs Kruger and Pott will receive their awards during a ceremony at the end of the fourth term.

For more information about the Teaching Excellence Awards, contact Dr Karin Cattell-Holden at kcattell@sun.ac.za or 021 808 3074.