CBU is well known for its small community and exceptional, knowledgeable professors. Among them is Andrew Parnaby, Associate Professor and Chair of the Department of History and Culture. Andrew began his career with Cape Breton University in 2003 after teaching for several years at University of Victoria and Dalhousie University. A social historian, his research focuses on North America as well as the history of state security in Canada.
“I never saw myself as a teacher when I first set my sights on a PhD and a potential scholarly career. When I was a graduate student, no one really spoke about teaching as an important component of the academic life. Research was everything, and you received explicit training in that area. It was not until I was first asked to teach undergraduate students at the University of Victoria almost 20 years ago that I realized both the immense joy to be found in the classroom, and also the importance of taking an overt interest in questions of pedagogy,” says Andrew. He adds that part of his ongoing education in teaching has been through watching others teach and becoming inspired through their work, saying, “I’m always on the lookout for great teachers, wherever they might be found. I am inspired as much by thoughtfulness of Richard Keshen or Erna MacLeod who work in neighboring disciplines as I am by the motivational success of someone like Ness Timmons on the soccer pitch.”
While there have always been exceptional teachers at CBU, Parnaby feels as though over the past decade or so there has been a teaching revolution underway. He says, “More professors are thinking more often about questions of teaching and learning than ever before. This critical mass of exceptional teachers at CBU is a product of many things, not the least of which is the impact of Eileen Smith-Piovesan, who looked after the Teaching and Learning Centre at CBU for many, many years. She beat the drum on these issues consistently, and sometimes under very unfavourable conditions.”
Andrew claims the small, close-knit community found at CBU has impacted his experience working with the university in important ways by always bringing him into contact with faculty from all scholarly disciplines. He adds “you can’t hide in your little niche; that is an undeniably positive thing about CBU.” As a teacher at CBU, one must be capable of teaching across a range of subjects and in a variety of settings, which Andrew says keeps teaching from becoming routine or boring. He also notes the impressive range of resources available to CBU teachers such as the Beaton Institute, CBU Art Gallery, and the Boardmore Playhouse Theatre, and says these places give much of the teaching in the School of Arts and Social Sciences its distinct flavour.
Among his many accomplishments, Parnaby has written and published three books, has received the Eugene A. Forsey prize in Canadian Labour History, was awarded the Canada Prize in the Social Sciences and, most recently, has become a two-time recipient of the CBU Distinguished Teaching Award. Andrew comments: “I am grateful for this recognition, yet the truth is that on any given day at CBU, there are dozens and dozens of distinguished teachers practicing their craft – all of whom are worthy of the same recognition. More than anything,” he adds, “the teaching award should be seen as a reflection of the vitality of the teaching culture at CBU as a whole.”