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Innovation and enthusiasm earns Hadzovic early career teaching award

Alen Hadzovic is the 2016 recipient of an early career teaching award from the University of Toronto (Photo by Ken Jones)

When Alen Hadzovic teaches, he has a long list of resources at his disposal. Along with new online and digital teaching tools, he combines experiential learning with old school techniques like overhead transparencies and blackboard notes to mix things up.

But his most effective tool is his enthusiasm for chemistry. 

“When you’re excited about the content you’re teaching, it’s contagious,” he says. “Students appreciate someone who knows the content well and is willing to share it, but I think enthusiasm is what makes a strong impression.”

Hadzovic, an assistant professor, teaching stream, in the Department of Physical and Environmental Science, is one of three recipients of U of T’s Early Career Teaching Award. The award is given annually to faculty members who “demonstrate an exceptional commitment to student learning, pedagogical engagement and teaching innovation. 

Hadzovic first caught the chemistry bug at age 12 when he became fascinated with a sulphur molecule he saw in his school science textbook.

“I started to realize the physical world – rocks, clouds, water, everything – could be understood through these wonderful looking chemical structures,” he says. “It was then I knew I wanted to be a chemist.”

After receiving his Ph.D. in Chemistry from the University of Toronto in 2007, he completed his Postdoctoral Fellowship in 2009. He then devoted the next three years to teaching undergraduate courses at both the St. George and Scarborough campuses before joining the Department of Physical & Environmental Sciences at UTSC in 2011.

Using a grant from the Centre for Teaching and Learning he developed online, interactive teaching materials called Structural Inorg Chem developed for inorganic chemistry courses. He’s also promoted opportunities for cross-disciplinary and extra-curricular learning, specifically through the workshop he co-created with Dr. Erin Webster called The Technical Art History Workshop.   

The collaboration is unique because it brings together chemistry and art history students to learn about what happens to paint as it ages, to gain an appreciation of different art forms and the techniques involved in art history.

“It’s another good example of how bringing two different fields together in order to learn from each other can be productive,” he says.

Creating cross-disciplinary opportunities has always been important to Hadzovic. In the past he’s teamed up with Barry Freeman, a  professor of theatre and performance arts, on WIDEN UTSC. The initiative offered a forum where members across the university community could share their perspectives across disciplines on a series of topics.

He’s also partnered with faculty from Historical and Cultural Studies on various projects and hopes to partner with the English Department in the near future.

“An interdisciplinary education opens the door to new perspectives and different ways of thinking, and that’s something I think we can all benefit from,” he says. “At the end of the day I believe it creates better professionals.”

He’s also shown time and again a willingness to go above and beyond the call of his regular teaching duties, notes Professor George Arhonditsis, chair of the Department of Physical and Environmental Science. 

“He’s offered unique experiential learning opportunities in his coursework, helped with curriculum development, created faculty and student mentoring opportunities, sat on numerous committees and volunteered for various outreach programs including science fairs, open houses and the Ontario University Fair,” he says.

“It just shows how committed Alen is to teaching and student learning. He is and continues to be an invaluable asset to our Department, this campus and to the chemistry community as a whole.”  

For Hadzovic, it’s all part of being a member in a campus community that prides itself on academic excellence.     

“The campus has grown quite a bit since I first started here, but there’s still a strong sense of community at UTSC,” he says.

“We have great teachers and researchers, and I think we’re uniquely positioned to help our students become leaders and professionals that can make a difference in the world


© University of Toronto Scarborough