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Grenfell prof top teacher

Dr. James Greenlee (L) and former student Mark Osmond

A student never forgets a remarkable teacher. That's why Mark Osmond didn't hesitate when asked to talk openly about Dr. James Greenlee.

"He's one of the most gifted professors I've ever met," Mr. Osmond said of the respected Sir Wilfred Grenfell College history professor. "He's more than a teacher; he's been a mentor. Dr. Greenlee doesn't just teach you facts and dates, he teaches you how to be an independent thinker."

Dr. Greenlee was the recipient of 2005's Principal's Teaching Award, presented annually to recognize and encourage excellence in teaching, teaching innovation and leadership. He was officially recognized for his contribution to the university during Grenfell's May convocation ceremony.

Mr. Osmond, a former student of Dr. Greenlee, graduated with a degree in historical studies and aspires to become a professor. He applauded the anonymous student who engineered the award nomination. "Dr. Greenlee has influenced me more than anyone I've studied under," said Mr. Osmond. "He makes everything transparent. He's an eloquent, engaging speaker who makes a lecture come alive."

Equally as important, Dr. Greenlee cares about his students. Within the university, he maintains an open door policy. Students are invited to call him at home and all Grenfell history majors know where he lives, having been invited to dinner at least once during their undergraduate careers. Dr. Greenlee founded the Historical Society in 1977, the year he was appointed to Grenfell College. In 2004 he endowed the Joanne Swan Greenlee Prize in Historical Studies, in memory of his late wife.

A native of Hamilton, Ontario, Dr. Greenlee instructed at McMaster University and the University of Windsor before moving to Corner Brook.

"The only reason I have this award is because some thoughtful student nominated me. It's not something that would have occurred to me," he said quietly. "I was quite surprised to get the nomination, and in fact I was going to decline."

Dr. Greenlee reconsidered after learning the nomination came from a student. "I would never know who that student was, and I could not look in the eye the people I am always telling to strive a little higher, go a little harder and get all they can out of themselves if I did not do so myself," he explained.

He sees the award more as a reflection of the entire Grenfell community. "I enjoy teaching, but we are a community of teachers," Dr. Greenlee pointed out. "I've never thought of myself as particularly different from the vast majority of my colleagues so I am very grateful to the person who nominated me. I'm honoured to be singled out among so many people I consider to be fine teachers. I can think of many who are as worthy."

Dr. Greenlee promotes a questioning attitude. He has developed a technique that allows students to improve their writing by critiquing each others'. "I try to keep (the material) fresh," he said of his teaching style. "Before I go into a class I have a habit of stopping and saying to myself 'remember this is the first and the last time these people are going to hear this, so act that way.' I try to hear what I'm saying through my students' ears rather than how I might intuitively understand something."

The man who has spent more than 25 years on campus and authored Grenfell's Historical Studies degree program has seen many changes. "Bringing the degree programs on stream was one of the most important," he said. "History had the opportunity to fashion its own degree to suit our resources, talents, interests and the needs of our students. After many years of grooming students to go on to St. John's we were able to see them start very raw and finish very polished. That's an enormous reward that was lacking before."