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Taking it to the great outdoors

(December 2, 1999, Gazette)

Dr. T. A. Loeffler (L) receives the 1999 Association for Experiential Education Outstanding Experiential Teacher of the Year award in Rochester, N.Y. in October.

By Jean Graham

Dr. T. A. Loeffler of the School of Physical Education received a unique honour this year. The innovative professor was named Outstanding Experiential Teacher of the Year by the Association for Experiential Education, an international organization made up of teachers at schools and colleges, as well as those specializing in out-of-doors, therapeutic adventure, and corporate education.

Dr. Loeffler (known universally as T. A.) teaches in the physical education and recreation degree programs. She’s a big believer in experiential education. Asked to explain what experiential education is, she has a string of examples.

“One course I teach is Outdoor Recreation Management. Not only do we talk about theories of carrying capacity, we go out and look at land and see the impact of using it,” she explained enthusiastically.

When her students are learning about tourism, “to examine the experience of being a tourist, we go out to actually be tourists,” visiting historic sites, taking whale-watching tours, and generally getting a tourist’s-eye view of the province.

“For the third year course, I’ll take students to the Grand Canyon.” (Yes, that Grand Canyon. In Arizona.) “We actually study outdoor recreation while we’re doing outdoor recreation.”

And if you’re walking by the Phys Ed building and spot a target on the ground, look up at the roof. That’s very likely T. A. Loeffler and her students up there, doing some creative problem-solving. “I give them straws and tape and a raw egg and tell them they have to protect it.” The results are tested from gradually increasing heights, until the shell actually shatters.

It’s not surprising, then, that Dr. Loeffler received such prestigious recognition for her classroom (or, more accurately, out-of-classroom) expertise. And while she acknowledges that her award “... is the award for hands-on education,” a large part of her pleasure and pride comes from knowing her students were responsible for the nomination.

“I knew they had nominated me last year, but not this year,” she said, “so when I found out I had won the award it came as a complete surprise.”

She sees the award (a plaque and a financial award) as beneficial for the entire School of Physical Education, Recreation and Athletics. “Of course it was a wonderful professional honour for me,” said Dr. Loeffler, “but it also was good for the university as a whole.”

The impact was evident right away. A representative of the school’s co-op office attended the same October conference, and noticed a heightened interest on the part of potential employers in hiring MUN work term students.

Dr. Loeffler was formally presented with her award Oct. 28 at the annual conference of the Association for Experiential Education, held this year in Rochester, New York.