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Top marks

Edmonton professor receives prestigious award.

“We engage with the prisoners like any other university student,” Zinck says.      

“I was incredulous. Really. I am still pinching myself,” exclaimed Dr. Arlette Zinck, Associate Professor of English Literature and Dean of Arts at The King’s University in Edmonton, weeks after hearing she had been named a 3M National Teaching Fellow. There is no money attached to a 3M National Teaching Fellowship but it comes with a lot of prestige for the recipient and the institution where he or she teaches. For 30 years, this award, which recognizes excellence in educational leadership and teaching at the university and college level, has been given to no more than 10 professors a year.

“I was aware of the caliber of the nominations and I was thoroughly prepared to count my blessings whether or not I was offered membership with the 3M Fellows,” Zinck continued. “It was a tremendous honour just to be nominated.” With humility, she added, “I sit on our Faculty-Senate evaluation committee in my capacity as Dean, so I am well aware of the exceptional teaching standard at King’s. Anything I do well in the classroom I have learned from the great teachers who mentored me in graduate school and at King’s. We have a whole university full of 3M worthy teachers, in my estimation.”

Prison ed
The 3M Teaching Fellowship recognizes the impact of Zinck’s work with students both on and off the university campus. In addition to teaching at King’s, she leads a team of faculty from King’s and other institutions to offer post-secondary studies and distance learning to inmates at Edmonton’s maximum security federal prison and other Correctional Service of Canada institutions.

Zinck’s involvement in prison education began many years ago when a young man named Omar Khadr was a prisoner at Cuba’s notorious Guantanamo Bay military prison (“Heeding Christ’s call to visit the prisoner,” CC July 27, 2015). A Canadian citizen, Khadr had been captured at age 15 following a firefight with U.S. troops in Afghanistan. In total, Khadr spent 13 years behind bars. When he was transferred from Cuba to Canada and eventually to the Edmonton Institution, Zinck and her colleagues continued his education there.

“Within a month,” explained Zinck, “we had a request to teach another student – and then another.” Although they initially helped Khadr complete high school, these professors now offer only post-secondary education, teaching one-on-one, wearing personal alarms and closely monitored by guards. “We bring our presence,” said Zinck, “and we engage with the prisoners like any other university student.” Along the way, Zinck founded and now leads the Post-Secondary Prison Education Foundation which is in the process of becoming a recognized non-profit. Her work with learners in prison has helped shape public dialogue about fostering hope through teaching to move learning beyond classroom walls and into the community.

Empathy and hope
Her nomination was spearheaded by Dr. Peter Mahaffy, Professor of Chemistry at King’s, and a previous 3M Teaching Fellowship recipient. As part of the process, Zinck had to write both a philosophy of teaching and a philosophy of educational leadership essay and is well aware of all of the painstaking energy required by Mahaffy and other colleagues to complete her nomination. Her teaching philosophy is rooted in the power of story to direct students’ sense of empathy from thinking into action. “My teaching practice is all about storytelling. Storytelling is integral to understanding who we are,” she explained. “It connects us to others who are both like and unlike us. Stories can generate empathy and hope, both in the classroom and in society at large. They allow us to reimagine ourselves and our world in ways that are life-giving and full of possibility.”

Zinck is already enjoying the “fellowship” part of the 3M Fellowship. “The 2018 cohort has exchanged emails among ourselves and with other 3M Fellows of earlier years,” she explained. “It is a warm and welcoming community, and I look forward to meeting everyone in person this summer.” The group of 10 new Fellows will meet in November in Quebec for a three day retreat courtesy of the 3M company. “Based on what I have read about the other 2018 fellows, I expect I will learn a lot from my new colleagues, and I look forward to sharing these new ideas and friendships with my family at King’s.”

Zinck extends sincere thanks to the Society for Teaching and Learning in Higher Education, 3M, Macleans Magazine and the Fellowship’s other facilitators and sponsors.

“Teaching, no matter at which level, is a great responsibility,” she said. “I am deeply grateful to these groups for noticing, nurturing and celebrating strong teaching.” 


  • A former nurse, hospital chaplain & counsellor, Janet lives in Edmonton where she now works as a freelance writer.

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