Cari Din in front of whiteboard talking with two grad students
Cari Din discusses leadership with two of her grad students Morgan Rogers, right, and Joy Camarao Adrian Shellard, for the University of Calgary

Oct. 26, 2022

SU Hall of Fame teacher Cari Din receives McCaig-Killam Teaching Award

Signature of her work is care for students, the material, and teaching and learning

Despite the class size, the teacher, six weeks into the term, is on a first-name basis with all 85 students.

This isn't the byproduct of photographic memory. Rather, Dr. Cari Din is willing to put in the time, to practise until she gets everyone's name right, because she feels having that kind of connection with students is vital.

"It means we are coming into this room to do something important together," explains Din, PhD, associate professor (teaching) in the Faculty of Kinesiology at the University of Calgary. "One of the signatures of my work is care — care for the students, care for the material, care for teaching and learning. I hope that shows that I care.

"In sport, there's research to suggest that the coach-athlete relationship is the birthplace of best-performance. And I would say the student-teacher relationship is the soil in which we can plant some really interesting ideas. Without it, teaching and learning, for me anyway, feel pretty one-dimensional.

"I'm not a fan of just putting content out there."

Already known as great teacher

Din's whole-hearted approach to education has not gone unnoticed.

In 2019, she was singled out for a UCalgary Teaching Award. And, after getting the Student Union's teaching excellence award for the sixth time, she had been inducted into its hall of fame.

Now she is being honoured again, this time with the prestigious McCaig-Killam Teaching Award.

“This is fantastic news, which recognizes outstanding contributions to teaching and learning at the university,” says Dr. Raylene Reimer, interim dean, Faculty of Kinesiology.

“Cari is an inspiration to her students and colleagues — her students adore her and her energy is infectious. She is a tremendous role model in teaching and learning, and we are very fortunate to have her in our faculty.”

Din says, “What's funny to me is winning a teaching award makes me want to become better at teaching, which might sound counter-intuitive. What I appreciate about teaching awards is it allows us to make public effective teaching. It doesn't have to be about me.

I love that we can celebrate something that I feel is the soul of any great university. Celebrating really great teaching helps all of us remember why it's so central to what we do.

Remarkably, given this lengthening list of achievements, Din was already 47 years old when she landed her UCalgary tenure-track teaching position in July 2018.

"I am really lucky to have found this," she says. "It took me a long time to get here."

It runs in the family

Which, officially, may be true. But there is a common thread to her professional direction, not the least of which is belonging to a family of teachers, including her brother, her mother, her grandmothers, one of her great-grandmothers.

By 14, Din was already coaching at the Calgary Aquabelles artistic swimming club. And she never stopped, even as her own competitive career carried her to the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta, where, with Team Canada, she earned a silver medal. ("When you come from such a tiny, strange, not-well-understood sport, to have 55,000 people watching puts you in this other sense of self and reality," she says. "It was an extraordinary part of my life.")

Ten years later, she was inducted into the Alberta Sports Hall of Fame.

Retiring from athletic life and embarking on an academic path at UCalgary — BA in communication and culture, MSc in motor learning, PhD in leadership behaviour — Din continued to coach, operating as a consultant at the national level.

"Now looking back — hindsight's 20-20 — I see this pattern of always working on becoming a better and better teacher, without labelling it as such," she says. "There's this theme that I actually didn't recognize until I was at this stage."

In addition to classwork — three courses per term — there is research. She is in the fourth year of a lab-reform project, with Dr. Martin MacInnis, PhD. "It's another space where I get to positively influence students' experience."

It's the craft of teaching, however, that is her passion. Which, with the aim of improvement, features a "near-constant" state of self-assessment.

"When I walk out of a class, my brain is racing, thinking about what I could've done better or whether something worked or what I'm happy with," says Din. "I keep working on teaching better and better because it is the most rewarding professional thing I've ever experienced.

"To work in an environment like this, I am inspired to get better."