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Celebrating Achievements

Each year the University of Alberta and the Alumni Association recognizes the accomplishments of members of the University community — students, staff and alumni — with various awards and honors. New Trail is pleased to salute the winners of some of the major University and Alumni Association prizes as a way of celebrating the achievements of not only these individuals but a great many others who, through their commitment and attainments, have brought honor to our alma mater.

Michael Wayman

Rutherford Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching

Michael Wayman holds what looks to be an x-ray up to the light.

The radiograph is of a stout, spherical urn riddled with hairlines and wide bands of grey, contrasting areas of black and white. The image is of an ancient Chinese bronze, a Provincial Museum artifact that one of Wayman's students analyzed as a research project. As a literary scholar might examine a text, Wayman probes the hidden layers, revealing something about the work and its creators. He points to areas where missing metal has been crudely replaced with filler or the metal's surface texture altered.

Wayman, a metallurgical engineering professor and an adjunct professor of anthropology, is an expert in ancient metals and a respected archeometrist — one who applies the natural sciences to studies of the past. "Objects that come to us from the past have stories to tell," he explains. "Archeometry is a language that allows us to understand something about those objects, and about the lives of the people who made and used them."

Wayman, a winner of a 1995 Rutherford Award for Teaching, seems to have a knack for making engineering and archeometry come alive for his students. On teaching evaluations, a student in his course on metallurgical engineering materials states, "Dr. Wayman is an excellent professor who covered all of the topics clearly and used interesting examples to illustrate concepts," while an anthropology student raves, "thoroughly enjoyable, fascinating ... an excellent course."

The unassuming professor chooses to give credit to his subject matter. "I've been fortunate to teach both of these disciplines, which are intrinsically fascinating."

The keen interest of Wayman's students means that he has to be prepared to answer a barrage of questions. Students "constantly, constantly" catch him offguard with their queries — about the innovative new materials found in their tennis racquets and mountain bikes, or about problems they've encountered in their own work and life experience.

The veteran of 26 years of teaching at the University notes, "We have significantly more older students now, who can bring previous experience to their studies. A lot more challenging and interesting questions are coming up in lectures."

Wayman sees his personal interaction with students as the most important — and most gratifying — aspect of his work. "The satisfactions are greater, I think, from teaching [than from research], because you are dealing with people and learning about their lives."

The importance of that interaction was confirmed for Wayman last year, through his participation in a pilot project in distance education. He was one of the first professors to use the University's high-tech interactive classroom facilities, to teach an archeometry course to students at both the U of A and the U of Calgary.

Although he found the experience of teaching with the new technology "invaluable," Wayman made trips to Calgary to talk with students the old-fashioned way, face-to-face. "It is absolutely critical to go out there and meet the students and get to know them a little. They need that interaction with the instructor. I really don't think there is any substitute for that personal contact."

The three-time winner of Faculty of Engineering Teaching Awards has developed other ways of encouraging interaction with and among his students. For instance, at the conclusion of a course requiring individual research projects, Wayman's undergraduate archeometry students prepare posters to share their findings with the class. And in his engineering courses, Wayman is a visible presence not only in the lectures but in the labs, where he circulates amongst students answering questions and returning lab reports.

All of the attention and energy Wayman expends on teaching might seem to be a burden, but in fact he finds the classroom provides solace. "One of the frustrations of teaching at a University is that there are so many things going on at any given time — research, meetings, administration, committees," he says. "But then you walk into a classroom, and there is nothing else going on for the next 50 minutes. You can concentrate on just teaching and learning. That is certainly one of the rewards."

Published Autumn 1995.

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