Nicole Campbell receives national honour for making a positive difference in the classroom – and beyond

Nicole Campbell, PhD - 2024 3M National Teaching Fellowship Award recipient
Nicole Campbell, PhD - 2024 3M National Teaching Fellowship Award recipient

By Cam Buchan

“I have never had a professor more passionate and dedicated about their position or my personal growth. I have been incredibly inspired by you as a person and as a woman and have learned and grown more in this semester than the rest of my university years combined.”
A student of Nicole Campbell

For Nicole Campbell, it’s the little moments that make teaching so rewarding.

“It’s those moments that I get the most excitement from – when you get an email from a student or when somebody says you made a difference. That’s what this award is about.”

Campbell is one of 10 recipients across Canada to receive the 2024 3M National Teaching Fellowship Award, founded by 3M and the Society for Teaching and Learning in Higher Education (STLHE) honouring exceptional contributions to teaching and learning at the post-secondary level.

Campbell is the latest of 27 recipients at Western University to receive this honour.

Nicole Campbell

She will be welcomed as a teaching fellow at the STLHE conference in Niagara Falls June 11-14 and also participate in a summit in November in Banff, AB.

“It’s absolutely a tremendous honour; a tremendous privilege,” she said. “And not just an honour to win the award, but to be nominated in the first place. It gave me a chance to sit back and reflect on my career and who I am as an educator. When I read through my dossier and the letters of recommendation, I sat back and said, ‘This is who I am. There’s nothing I would do differently. I am really proud of the accomplishments and impact I have had’.”

Now, as a recipient, Campbell reflected on those moments – like a note from one of her students – that demonstrate to her that she is making a positive difference in students’ educational experience in a very personal way.

As director of both the IMS undergraduate and Master of Science programs in Interdisciplinary Medical Sciences (IMS), Campbell has had multiple opportunities to put her teaching philosophy into action by giving students the academic, professional and personal skills to succeed.

Campbell’s innovations in the classroom include designing innovative teaching methods for the undergraduate program and new MSc in IMS. Highlighting the importance of teamwork principles and practices in the program’s fourth-year capstone course, Campbell designed “escape boxes” modelled after the popular escape room concept. Students work in teams to solve a series of puzzles and clues that reveal locks to get into the box. Her team also implemented using a GoPro camera during the pandemic to make videos that enable students to see lab exercises from their point-of-view.

Her teaching philosophy focuses on humanizing education, said Brad Urquhart, PhD, associate dean, Basic Medical Science Undergraduate Education.

“Her classroom is a space where it is safe to fail, and students are encouraged to learn from their mistakes. Nicole creates a sense of belonging for her students so they feel like they’re part of a community and can truly engage in learning,” he said.

The Hidden Curriculum

Out of her classroom experience has come the idea of the hidden curriculum – a set of unwritten, unspoken rules and perspectives that students don’t know coming into school that may negatively affect their academic performance. This experience affected Campbell, as well, both as a student and a faculty member.

“I had this tremendous empathy just for the fact that, no matter what your role is, there are going to be pieces where you just don’t know the answers.”

Campbell led a team in developing an open-access website that provided resources and tools for students and educators to help support student skill development. The award-winning initiative has mobilized into workshops and other scholarly activities.

The next step for Campbell is to investigate the roots of the challenges students face in the classroom and beyond.

“If I were to sit back and think about what I want to do next, I want to solve the philosophical issues because we can't really implement change if we don't understand the problem.”

The 3M National Teaching Fellowship is Canada’s most prestigious recognition of excellence in educational leadership and teaching at the post-secondary level. Canada now has more than 360 3M National Teaching Fellows, representing a broad range of academic disciplines from more than 80 small and large Canadian post-secondary institutions.