Prof. Jessica Eisen awarded 2022 Tevie H. Miller Award for teaching excellence

Eisen lauded for going above and beyond to help students succeed in law school

Carmen Rojas - 27 April 2022

Assistant Professor Jessica Eisen approaches all her courses with an overarching goal — to create a safe and supportive space where her students can flourish. 

“When students feel safe, they are better able to take intellectual risks and rise to the challenges posed by complex material,” said Eisen.

Her teaching philosophy is clearly a success: based in part on the glowing recommendations of her students, Eisen was selected as the 2022 recipient of the Hon. Tevie H. Miller Teaching Excellence Award. This annual award recognizes excellence in teaching by a full-time faculty member at the University of Alberta Faculty of Law. 

“I truly think Professor Eisen is one of the best profs I have ever had in my university education, and actually one of the best instructors I have had in any level of education,” wrote one student in their nomination letter. 

“In her class, more than any of my other lectures, I go into my readings with a sense of excitement about what we are about to learn,” wrote another student. Others referenced Eisen’s passion for teaching, as well as her “overflowing empathy” and “near-superpower” of distilling complex information into more digestible forms. 

Eisen regularly teaches two first-year law courses — Foundations to Law and Constitutional Law — where she aims to go beyond the course material to prepare her students for success throughout law school.

For example, in her Constitutional Law classes she regularly includes discussions about study skills and strategies, as well as the opportunity for students to work on progressively harder sample exam questions throughout the term.

In the Foundations to Law class, Eisen made significant changes to the curriculum, despite taking on the course at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic when instruction switched to an online format. These adjustments include developing and introducing a multi-unit legal analysis workshop with the help of Legal Research and Writing Director Chris Samuel and the Writing Fellows, a team of third-year law students who offer writing support to their peers. 

Eisen is also actively reformulating the course curriculum to give more attention to the historical and social context of Canadian law, critical approaches to the law and the importance of respect and cultural competence for legal professionals and law students. For this endeavour, she collaborated with Law colleagues Hadley Friedland, Koren Lightning-Earle and Tamara Pearl.

Eisen also teaches the seminar courses Comparative Constitutional Law and Feminist Legal Theory, where she strives to build her students’ confidence and foster respectful engagement as they work on challenging materials. She does this by gathering student reactions to the materials and using this feedback to drive the approach the class takes to discussing the content. 

“I hope through this approach to convey my appreciation for students as participants in broader scholarly conversations and to encourage students to view each other that way as well,” she said. 

Eisen, whose achievement will be recognized at a formal event in the fall, said she is humbled to have been selected for the award, particularly amid the ongoing uncertainties presented by the pandemic.

"I know that this has been an extraordinarily challenging year for our community. The fact that our students have taken on the work of nominating and supporting faculty members for this award speaks to the energy, commitment and generosity that I see every day in the classroom,” she said. "I am so proud of all that they have accomplished this year, and so honoured that they have chosen to recognize our work together with this award." 

The Hon. Tevie H. Miller Teaching Excellence Award is named in honour of the late Hon. Tevie H. Miller, who served as associate chief justice of the Court of Queen's Bench of Alberta. A Faculty of Law alumnus, he was also a great friend and supporter of the University of Alberta, serving as Students' Union president, president of the Alumni Association, as a member of the Senate, member of the Board of Governors and as chancellor.