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Marsha Penner teaching
Photo by Donn Young

Who was the best teacher you ever had and why?
Dr. Bruce Bolster at the University of Winnipeg immediately came to mind. He was the person who introduced me to the brain. I got a C in his Biopsychology class, but I was so excited to learn more about the brain after taking his class that I didn’t let the C dissuade me. He had such enthusiasm for the subject, you couldn’t help but be excited about cranial nerves and action potentials.
What is something you’ve learned from your students?
I learn things from my students every day, so it’s hard to pick just one thing. My students help me see things from new perspectives and I am constantly amazed by their talent, creativity and willingness to help each other grow.
What is something people would be surprised to learn about you?
I am a professional dog trainer in my spare time. I learn a lot about teaching in puppy classes. You might think a dog trainer is primarily training dogs, but really, we spend most of our time training the people.
What does it take to be a good professor in 2019?
You need to be open to and ready to change. We tell our students so often that learning should be challenging, and failure is part of the process. I think good teachers also embrace that advice in their teaching methods.
What is the most creative thing you have done to engage your students?
Right now, I am co-teaching a class with Dr. Michelle Robinson in American studies. We just had our first-year students write a work of detection fiction based on a primary neuroscience research article. Data become clues, neuroscientists become detectives, the hypothesis is transformed into a puzzle to solve. My mind is completely blown by the things our students created.

For more profiles on other recipients 2019 University Teaching Award, visit

By University Gazette

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