Dr. Cheryl Waldner is the first WCVM professor to receive the Provost's Graduate Teaching Award.

WCVM professor earns teaching award

If you walk by Dr. Cheryl Waldner's office door on any given day, you're likely to see the respected researcher and professor working patiently with a student.

The long-time Western College of Veterinary Medicine (WCVM) faculty member is this year's recipient of the Provost's Award for Outstanding Graduate Teaching at the University of Saskatchewan. The award recognizes one professor each year for excellence in teaching at the graduate level. Waldner is the first WCVM professor to receive this award.

Waldner teaches at the WCVM and the U of S School of Public Health, and she's consistently rated as one of the most knowledgeable, caring and passionate teachers. While no one really teaches university professors how to teach, Waldner has discovered over time that effective teaching involves trying to understand the learner's perspective.

"Teaching is very important to me and it really meant a lot to be recognized for that," she says.

In her 16 years of teaching at the WCVM, Waldner has balanced classroom time with her research work that has led to 150 peer-reviewed research articles. She sits on 12 graduate student committees, supervises six graduate students and has "about 15" research projects on the go. Nine of those studies are externally funded.

A large part of her research focuses on issues affecting the health and productivity of cow-calf herds, including disease, nutritional issues and antimicrobial resistance. She's also involved in a number of public and environmental health research projects related to important human infectious and chronic diseases.

Waldner is humble about her award and credits lessons from both within and outside the university in helping her to become a better teacher.

"This is going to sound very cliché, but my experiences as a parent of students and as a mature student myself helped me to see the importance of taking the time to try and understand what each person needs to work through questions and engage with the material," says Waldner.

PhD candidate Dr. Lianne McLeod is one of Waldner's six graduate students. McLeod considers herself "extraordinarily lucky" to have Waldner as a supervisor.

"She does not mind talking to students. She's always willing to answer questions and answer emails," says McLeod. "She's really good at connecting with students. You get the sense she really wants you to succeed."

When McLeod first started her graduate work, she would often send Waldner emails late at night and receive a response right away. After a while she decided to stop sending late-night messages unless it was really important.

"I'm pretty sure she never sleeps," says McLeod, smiling.

Epidemiologist Dr. Sheryl Gow has similar superlatives for Waldner's teaching. Waldner supervised Gow's PhD program at the WCVM, and they worked together on a cow-calf surveillance project that studied the effects of oil and gas emissions on cattle health. Since graduating in 2007, Gow has worked with Waldner on various projects and committees.

"She can teach you so much just because of her vast experience and her knowledge base, it's incredible," says Gow. "I think she's such a good teacher because she never stops learning herself."

Gow points out one time she was particularly impressed with her supervisor's teaching. While she was doing her graduate work, Waldner decided to put together an undergraduate lab to teach students practical skills such as passing a stomach tube, giving injections or putting on calving chains.

"Those were all just things you take for granted that you know how to do but it was really invaluable to the students, and I think they really appreciated having that practical hands-on approach to things," says Gow. "She can actually relate her vast knowledge back to students in a practical manner."

Waldner says she often learns from her students and finds that she's able to balance teaching with research in part because she's teaching students who really want to be there.

"It certainly does make it a lot more fun when the people you're working with are very driven and excited."

Waldner grew up on a farm near Saskatoon and has been passionate about animals for as long as she can remember. She earned her Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) degree from the U of S in 1988 and worked for a time in Alberta as a consulting cow-calf veterinarian before returning to the U of S to complete a PhD program. After finishing her graduate studies in 1999, she joined the WCVM faculty.  She runs a small cow-calf operation with her husband, which she says helps her keep a "toe in the industry."

Waldner has won a number of U of S and national awards including the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association's Intervet/Schering-Plough Award for contributions to large animal medicine and the U of S New Researcher Award.

Waldner's accomplishments and dedication to her work continue to impress her peers and students.

"She's amazing. She's somebody that is a really good role model for young women," says Gow.

Jeanette Stewart of Rockglen, Sask., is a graduate of the University of Regina's School of Journalism program and a 2015 WCVM research communications intern.
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