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Wilfrid Laurier University Communications, Public Affairs & Marketing
October 26, 2016
Canadian Excellence

Richard Ennis
Richard Ennis

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2004 Award for Teaching Excellence

Psychology's Richard Ennis takes award for part-time faculty

Apr 19/04

Richard Ennis of Laurier’s Psychology Department has been awarded the 2004 Award for Teaching Excellence for part-time contract academic staff.

“Professor Ennis is viewed within our department as a superb teacher, someone who has handled a very wide range of courses with competence and great energy,” Psychology chair Michael Pratt wrote in supporting Ennis’s nomination.

“The sheer amount of teaching that Rich has been engaged in over the past 10 years, as well as its scope and range, are quite remarkable,” Pratt continued. “Most notably, however, in all of these diverse formats, his (teacher evaluation) ratings have been consistently among the highest of any of our instructors, indeed, frequently at the ‘top of the charts’ on our seven-point Laurier scale …”

But becoming a first-rate university instructor probably wasn’t Ennis’s initial career goal.

Ennis, who moved to Waterloo from Timmins when he was about 10 years old, began university at Waterloo Lutheran, where he took a first-year psychology course from Don Morgenson, which was taught in the basement of old Willison Hall. He transferred to the University of Waterloo after his first year, earning a degree in history.

By a fluke – he was in the right place at the right time – he became an athletic therapist after graduation, picking up training along the way.

I spent all the ’70s as an athletic therapist with the Buffalo Sabres farm teams,” Ennis says, recalling stints in Charlotte, Des Moines and Syracuse. His first job as a physical therapist, in fact, was to tape the ankle of Jim Schoenfeld, who went on to become a Buffalo Sabres star and later a coach for several NHL organizations.

“There were years I did 25,000 miles by bus,” Ennis says.

His years as an athletic therapist led him, eventually, to psychology.

Ennis loves athletics (although he is no fan of professional sports) and would have dearly loved to play hockey. “I had the passion of a player,” he says, but unfortunately he also had “zero talent.”

Then he began noticing that there were “so many talented players with no passion.” That led to a return to university and a specialization in social psychology. He earned an Honours BA, an MA, and worked on a PhD.

He began teaching in the late 1980s when the University of Waterloo solicited proposals for new courses, and his submission for a course on the social psychology of sport was accepted.

“I found myself in front of a classroom for the first time and loving it.” Within a year or two, he was also teaching at Laurier, and he continues to teach part-time at both universities.

I’m doing what I just love,” he says. Asked why he loves teaching, he pauses. “I don’t know,” he says. “It’s a high for me.”

Then Ennis time travels a bit, back to his days as a student. He remembers talking to his grandmother, explaining to her exactly what he was studying. “She was intelligent but didn’t have a university education,” he says, and when he studied, “my objective was to turn it into a presentation I could make to my grandmother. This deeper processing of the material helped me understand it.”

This term Ennis has been teaching an introductory class of about 250 students, “which seems small to me” compared to the 675 in his class at the University of Waterloo, and a class of about 150 in sport psychology. The students are much like his grandmother: intelligent, but still in the process of becoming educated.

To reach them, Ennis makes his lectures engaging. “To accomplish this,” he says, “I select material with the greatest relevance to everyday experiences. I consistently use real life demonstrations and mundane illustrations. For example, I analyze excuse-making so students can appreciate the implications of attribution theory, and I conclude my social psychology course by examining the psychology of religious cults and terrorist groups.”

Because he is such an enthusiastic teacher, with a passion for his subject, Ennis’s lectures are lively and animated. He also tries very hard to nurture students individually, to feed their emerging passion. “I encourage class participation and acknowledge all student comments and questions as worthy of consideration.”

And finally, Ennis wants to leave his students with something. For his honours students, “my duty is to provide them with the background they’ll require as they go on.” And for those students who may be taking only one or two psychology courses, he keeps in mind that “this is the last psychology course some of these people will ever take. I want them to remember it for more than the grade they got. There is so much there that can enrich their lives.”

And Ennis does get through.

“He was wonderful, in fact, I’ve even changed my major to psychology, largely due to Professor Ennis,” one student wrote in a course evaluation.

“Coming from teacher’s college, I know a good instructor when I see one,” added another student. “He was very clear on all subject matters and very enthusiastic.

“He makes things relevant and carries a light-hearted nature at the appropriate times,” said another student. “(He) uses humour to make the material engaging. (He is) willing to answer questions and explain material in several ways if people don’t understand.”

Ennis’s grandmother would understand that.

[Read who won the 2004 Award for Teaching Excellence (full-time faculty)]

Barry Ries
Public Affairs
Wilfrid Laurier University
Waterloo, ON
N2L 3C5

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