A tradition of teaching excellence
Teaching and learning have been at the core of UNB's mission since the institution's inception as the Provincial Academy of Arts and Sciences.
The curriculum of the 18th and 19th centuries was exceedingly classical, deeply grounded in the fundamentals of Greek and Latin, informed by the traditions of the U.K. and viewed by many as irrelevant to the needs of a developing province.
The arrival in 1837 of James Robb, educated at the University of Edinburgh and the Sorbonne, heralded a new era of more "general learning and useful knowledge," as envisaged by Lieutenant-Governor Sir Howard Douglas at the opening of King's College in 1829.
Only 22 years old, Prof. Robb was appointed lecturer in natural history and chemistry. Though he had a background in medicine as well as biology and geology, he much preferred teaching, describing it as "pleasanter" than "doctoring."
He established a "university teaching museum" - now the Connell Herbarium - in which the numerous samples of flora and rock he collected were displayed and used by his students.
UNB's first extension courses
Prof. Robb was the first to offer lectures, in chemistry, to members of the general public (including women!) in Fredericton and Saint John, where he reported 900 people attended, in effect beginning UNB's extension courses. And he further engaged with the community by founding the New Brunswick Society for the Encouragement of Agriculture, Home Manufacturing and Commerce, through which he disseminated scientific information to farmers.
Of him, his successor Loring Woart Bailey wrote, "As a teacher he was loved as well as respected by his students, seeking always for accuracy and clearness of statement rather than for a show of words, and endeavouring, as far as his very isolated position and remoteness from books and fellow-labourers would allow, to keep himself acquainted with the latest results of scientific thought and experiment."
Prof. Robb's untimely death in 1861 cut short his extraordinary career.
The teacher as gardener
In the past 150 years, UNB students have enjoyed learning from many fine and dedicated professors, perhaps none more accomplished than Kate Frego, who joined the department of biology at UNB Saint John in 1993.
A plant ecologist with a special interest in primitive plants, including mosses and liverworts, most of her current research, conducted with her graduate and honors students, assesses human impact on plant communities.
Drawing on a metaphor from her field, she describes her philosophy of teaching: "Teacher and learner, like gardener and seed, are components of a dynamic and meaningful relationship as we engage with one another and with the discipline.
While the focussed, motivated student is likely to succeed regardless of the professor, it is in empowering and inspiring ‘dormant' students that an educator can have a profound influence. Ultimately, the gardener becomes redundant, as students extend their roots and branches, learning independently and eventually towering above their gardener."
She has, like Prof. Robb, been an inspiration to her students as well as a mentor to her colleagues, serving as the driving force of the Vice-President's Excellence in Teaching Committee since she joined the university.
Teaching excellence recognized
Dr. Frego's exceptional abilities have been recognized with the university's own Allan P. Stuart Award for Excellence in Teaching, for which her students nominated her in 1997, and a prestigious University Teaching Professorship in 2001. In 2002, the Association of Atlantic Universities presented her with its Distinguished Teacher Award, calling her "a highly committed educator, one who exemplifies in her teaching an inspiring combination of intellectual enthusiasm, integrity, fairness and strong scholarship."
Even more impressive, she was the recipient in 2008 of a 3M National Teaching Fellowship, considered to be Canada's top teaching honour. Three other UNB professors - Pierre Zundel, Wiktor Askanas and Gilbert Allardyce - have also earned this rare distinction.