Honouring learning enablers

(Edmonton) When the emergency room doctor put his arms around her and gave her a hug, Maria Borges felt honoured.

He’d just found out that Borges had won the University of Alberta’s Excellence in Learning Support Recognition Award, and wanted to congratulate her.

“He teased that I knew him when he was just a little baby in medicine,” Borges chuckled.

As the program administrator of Undergraduate Emergency Medicine and Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada Emergency Medicine Residency, Borges spends her days helping a lot of “babies” just starting out on their intensive but exhilarating journeys in medical school and residency.

And since she’s by their sides for five or six years, they get to know and trust her as she helps them juggle their schedules for all-important medical rotations.

Her patient, considerate dedication to that task earned Borges the award, along with two other 2011 recipients, Melissa Casey of the Faculty of Arts and Jennifer Eigeard, of the Faculty of Education. All three will be among outstanding faculty, students and staff being recognized at Celebrate!, the university’s annual celebration of teaching, learning and research, being held Sept. 16 at the Myer Horowitz Theatre.

Borges has, for the last nine years of a 22-year career at the U of A, been based in the Department of Emergency Medicine, co-ordinating Year 4 rotations in Edmonton and area hospitals for more than 150 medical students, more than 100 medical residents and 30 emergency medicine residents per year. The gargantuan task involves liaising with staff at each of those sites and juggling both physician and student schedules for optimal convenience.

“It’s a real balancing act, which I enjoy.”

And, as with the ER doctor who gave her a hug, the very best part of her job is when she sees the students succeed. “It gives me a sense of pride and accomplishment for what I’ve done.”

At the same time, Borges is humbled by being nominated and chosen to receive the award. “It means a lot to have my colleagues take the time to consider a nomination for me. I enjoy the environment [and] the learning aspect at the U of A. I did not have the opportunity to get a degree, but I enjoy seeing others have the opportunity to train for a career.”

Casey, as international student specialist in the Faculty of Arts, finds it rewarding to watch foreign students grow in self-confidence as they evolve from being shy and nervous in their first year, to busy and outgoing by their third year.

“They join groups or projects or study disciplines they would never have dreamed of doing prior to stepping onto campus.”

Casey, who holds two degrees in science and arts from the U of A, oversees several international partnerships the faculty has with universities across the globe and each year, and welcomes hundreds of students who come to study at the U of A from Brazil, China, India, Malaysia, Mexico, Nigeria, Spain and the United States.

When they arrive, she greets them (often right at the airport), and during their time here, helps them navigate the challenges of using their English skills, learning a new academic vocabulary, and adjusting to a new culture.

“If we bring students from a different area of the world, I feel we have a responsibility to provide support and services to them.” Along the way, Casey tries to remember the small things that matter to each student, “so they don’t feel they are getting lost in a crowd.”

During her 13 years on campus, Casey grew to love working with students, first through 10 years in the registrar’s office working in recruitment, awards and international admissions, then moving to the Faculty of Arts. “There’s a certain amount of energy to gain from students. And it’s a pleasure get to know them for a long period of time and watch them grow.”

Casey was especially touched that her nomination for the award came from two students. “It’s nice to know you are making a difference in someone’s experience, and helping them along the way.”

Eigeard’s memories of being a U of A student are top of mind when she comes to work every day. As undergraduate program administrator in the Department of Secondary Education for three years, she strives to be sensitive to the needs of the many students who call or arrive at her office door, looking for help.

Responsible for setting up course timetables, helping with registration questions, course access, rosters and related faculty support, Eigeard is always busy.

“Being a former student here, I know how big the U of A can seem. Students can feel so overwhelmed about where to begin their quests for information. I want to get them that information in a timely manner. My goal is to let them know we are welcoming here, and to help them connect with the Faculty of Education, so that they feel like they are a part of the university community.”

Eigeard graduated from the U of A with a science degree, majoring in psychology, which comes in handy when connecting with and assisting students who are frustrated or confused with registering and planning their course loads.

“We always identify the issue and try to find a solution. Four or five minutes of my time can make all the difference, and it feels good to be able to do that. I love interacting with everyone who comes through my door. It is important that the students in our faculty feel supported. They are our future educators, and if we can model a supportive environment, then when our students go out as teachers, they’ve got an example in place that they can pass on.

“When I hear, ‘You have been so helpful’, I know I am making a difference for the students in our faculty.”

To learn about other Celebrate! recipients click here.