Jaksa named 2020 recipient of Outstanding Teaching Award

The Outstanding Teaching Award honors faculty who demonstrate their commitment to teaching and ability to deliver an excellent undergraduate learning experience. It is among the most prestigious faculty awards bestowed by the College of Natural Sciences, Forestry, and Agriculture.

With an open door, heart and mind, Kelly Jaksa models the social work values she teaches her students.

The lecturer and coordinator of the Bachelor of Social Work program describes teaching as an extension of her identity as a social worker.

“For me, social work and teaching are a privilege,” Jaksa said. “There is nothing more rewarding than seeing the sparkle in a student’s eyes when they experience that we are providers of hope for the unique people we work with to thrive and grow while overcoming profound challenges.”

Her authenticity and empathy have proven irresistible to students. Although Jaksa is assigned 50 student advisees each year, she functionally mentors far more.

“She puts students first and has always maintained an open-door policy,” said Sandra Butler, director of the School of Social Work.  “Her receptivity to working with students displaying mental health issues is particularly noteworthy given that such efforts can be intellectually and emotionally exhausting and time consuming. Her advising efforts are carried out selflessly and skillfully.”

Jaksa balances attending to these students with a heavy course load that attests to her versatility as an instructor. She teaches foundational social work courses for both the graduate and undergraduate programs. Graduate students encounter her again in their final year, as they hone their advanced practice and clinical skills.

Jaksa draws from over 14 years of clinical experience in community and healthcare settings to craft experiential learning exercises in her courses. Her pedagogy, unfailingly framed by her compassion, helps students cultivate their social work practice skills and ignites their enthusiasm for a career centered on helping others.

“Her experiences stand as examples of putting theory into practice and how we should all remain open and humbled by the privilege of being entrusted with the stories of our clients,” said Andrea Steward, a former student.

“Beyond the knowledge, passion, and wisdom imparted by Kelly, she created an environment where students were encouraged to make mistakes, express themselves, embrace their creativity, and in turn cultivating growth within them.”