Maria Panezi defines teaching excellence | NEXUS Magazine | Alumni | Faculty of Law | UNB

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Faculty of Law

Maria Panezi defines teaching excellence

When Prof. Maria Panezi isn't busy publishing cutting-edge research in internationally renowned science journals or spearheading UNB Law's Trade Law and Carbon Pricing Lab, she can be found in her favourite place at UNB Law—the classroom. Her dedication to education and passion for teaching have not gone unnoticed. Recently, Prof. Panezi was honoured with the 2023-24 Teaching Excellence Award, a testament to her exceptional contributions to student learning.

“I am honoured and touched to receive this award. I feel so lucky to get to do what I love and to have fun while I’m doing it!”

Prof. Panezi says she owes a debt of gratitude to her mother, a retired teacher whom she learned so much from about teaching and the pursuit of education.

“I learned so much from her and saw all of these teaching concepts in action since I was a kid. She never gave me an answer, never. She always directed me to the book or the source that had the answer; she directed me to the method.”

A teaching philosophy built on empathy and openness

Since Joining UNB Law in 2019, Prof. Panezi has established herself as UNB Law’s resident expert on all things related to international trade. Her research focuses on the interaction between national strategies on climate change and World Trade Organization (WTO) law. She teaches contracts, jurisprudence, and, of course, International Trade law.

“My teaching philosophy begins with empathy. I always try to actively listen to what my students have to say, both in and outside of the classroom.”

Her teaching paradigm demonstrates a unique understanding of the Socratic method. Being Greek and having read Plato in the original, the Socratic Method holds a special meaning for Prof. Panezi.

“The ancient word maieutiki, is the Greek word for ‘the art of midwifery.’ Socrates applied this word to teaching, he was assisting his students give birth to the truth. Socrates as the midwife, so to speak. The idea is that the truth wants to come out, and we help the truth come out, not through interrogation, but through interaction and asking questions.”

Prof. Panezi urges her students to engage. She facilitates discussion and encourages students to share their thoughts and opinions, all with the understanding that there is no such thing as a stupid question. She borrows the concept from French philosopher Jacques Derrida’s The University without Condition.

“Derrida discusses entering the classroom unconditionally; you have no expectations, and nothing is off the table. Nothing is not to be asked; nothing is not to be examined. There is no better way to learn."

For Prof. Panezi, all of this would mean nothing without preparation. Her mantra, the 4 P’s: “preparation prevents poor performance.”

“There's no such thing as too much preparation; I prepare ad nauseam. I will never go to class and wing it; that is not a thing in my vocabulary. But as we all know, nothing ever goes to plan, so you must be ready to change things up on the fly and go off script.”

Student-led nominations

Part of what makes this award so meaningful is the fact that nominations are submitted by the students. In Prof. Panezi’s case, a large group of upper-year students who've enjoyed her inclusive and innovative teaching throughout their law school experience.

“Professor Panezi has the unique and rare ability to facilitate conversations about dense legal theory in an incredibly inclusive way,” shared Susan Ivimey (JD’24) “There is space for every voice to be heard in her classrooms, and she guides discussions in such a way that her students feel both heard and, more importantly, listened to.”

“She believed in me and my abilities, even before I did, in my first year,” said Julia Belanger, who is now entering her third year. “She encourages students to explore their own perspectives, while also facing their own biases and the opposing views of colleagues. She offers a safe space for student to bring their questions during her office hours, or a place to go when the stress of school becomes overwhelming.”

Prof. Panezi also has the support of her colleagues. Award finalist Prof. Nicole O’Byrne shared that Prof. Panezi "exemplifies the best traits of an educator: empathy, knowledgeability, and enthusiasm. Her teaching styles inspire her students and colleagues. This recognition is well-deserved (and overdue!).”

Mentorship beyond the classroom

Outside the classroom, Prof. Panezi leads UNB Law’s Trade Law and Carbon Pricing Lab, an initiative funded by the New Brunswick Environmental Trust Fund that examines international law, specifically international environmental law and international trade law, to combat climate change.

“It was an incredible research project. I worked with 17 student research assistants on carbon pricing. I was like a kid in a candy store [laughs]. Working with these students on the report has been one of the most rewarding parts of the job.”

Prof. Panezi and her team produced the report Supporting a Green Economy through Trade Law, which explains how international trade parameters can impact provincial and federal carbon pricing legislation in the context of the New Brunswick Climate Action Plan.

Prof. Panezi also shares her expertise as a moot coach for the Jessup International Law Moot Court Competition and provides extensive support and guidance for students as they explore their career options before and after graduation.

“I will support any direction a student wants to take in their professional lives and offer advice. I write many reference letters and follow up with employers. I have students who are five years out who I support and provide reference for and make calls and try to get them hired because that's what they deserve. Our law school is a community, and that community does not end the day people graduate.”