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STLHE Names Dr. Julia Christensen Hughes Winner of 2024 Christopher Knapper Lifetime Achievement Award

Julia Christensen Hughes

Yorkville University’s Dr. Julia Christensen Hughes has been named the 2024 recipient of the Society for Teaching and Learning in Higher Education (STLHE)’s Christopher Knapper Lifetime Achievement Award.

The award, which is bestowed every two years, honours individuals who have “made significant contributions to teaching, learning and educational development in Canadian higher education” over their careers.

“I am truly honoured to receive this award. I have so much admiration for Christopher Knapper, and each of the previous award recipients, many of whom I had the great privilege and pleasure of working alongside, during my time on STLHE’s board, as we endeavoured to change Canada’s higher education landscape.  What united us was a passion for students and their learning, and a desire to challenge the system and ‘make teaching count,’” said Christensen Hughes, Yorkville’s President and Vice Chancellor. 

“I have been blessed over the course of my career to have had many opportunities to contribute to this essential agenda, culminating in my position as President at Yorkville. Sincere thanks to the selection committee and those who contributed to my nomination; wonderful colleagues who deeply understand – and are deeply committed to  – the transformative power of higher education.”

The STLHE selection committee for this year’s Christopher Knapper Lifetime Achievement Award singled out Christensen Hughes for her “exemplary career” embodying the spirit of the award. 

“Her contributions to the field of higher education have significantly advanced teaching and learning practices across Canada,” STLHE officials said in a statement. “Through her dedication and innovative approach, Christensen Hughes has profoundly impacted the academic community, fostering an environment of excellence and continuous improvement in educational development.” 

STLHE further noted that Christensen Hughes’ recognition as the 2024 award recipient underscores her “unwavering commitment to the values and mission of STLHE,” noting that her work not only honours the legacy of Christopher Knapper, but also inspires educators and educational developers nationwide.

Christensen Hughes’ nomination for the Christopher Knapper Lifetime Achievement Award was initiated by Dr. Natasha Hannon, Yorkville University’s Vice President of Teaching and Learning – a self-described “longtime admirer” of Christensen Hughes’ work – and supported by six of her peers, including:

Dr. Natasha Kenny, Senior Director of the Taylor Institute for Teaching and Learning at the University of Calgary

Dr. Debra Dawson, Director of The Centre for Research on Teaching and Learning in Higher Education at Western University

Dr. Kathleen Rodenberg, Associate Professor at the Gordon S. Lang School of Business and Economics, University of Guelph

Dr. Joy Mighty, Professor Emerita from the Sprott School of Business at Carleton University

Dr. Sarah Elaine Eaton, Associate Professor, Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary

Dr. Jessica Riddell, the Stephen A. Jarislowsky Chair of Undergraduate Teaching Excellence at Bishop’s University and author of Hope Circuits

“Across my 16-year career in educational development, I can attest to (Julia’s) extraordinary contributions in the field of higher education, her tireless dedication to mentoring and guiding aspiring educational leaders, and her pivotal role as a trailblazer for systemic change in the post-secondary sector in Canada and globally,” Hannon said. 

Indeed, Christensen Hughes is a globally recognized innovator who has enjoyed a long and distinguished career in education – a 37-year pursuit defined by her passion for the transformational power of higher education to change lives and improve society. 

Julia Christensen Hughes

Over the course of her career, she has held a number of significant leadership roles – including her tenure as President of STLHE from 2004 to 2007. Christensen Hughes’ time at the helm of the Society marked an important stage in its maturation, from the introduction of formal governance practices and its establishment of a full-time secretariat, to the expansion of its institutional memberships and the creation of a national strategy for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning. 

Kenny said Christensen Hughes’ ability to “engage with the heart and scholarship of teaching and learning in higher education to inspire thousands of educators, scholars, and academic leaders” during her time as STLHE’s president made a lasting impact.

“Her skilled, strategic leadership solidified governance processes for the Society, expanded membership, and elevated STLHE’s annual conference,” Kenny said.

“She brought higher education thought leaders together in community to advance and disseminate teaching and learning research in higher education through the seminal Taking Stock symposium and publication.” 

Those sentiments were echoed by Dawson, who, as a STLHE board member at the time, bore witness to Christensen Hughes’ efforts to cement the society as the eminent voice of higher education in Canada and a driving force for innovation and scholarly research through a campaign of outreach and collaboration.  

During her tenure as STLHE’s president, Christensen Hughes also directed the University of Guelph’s Teaching Support Services (TSS) – providing leadership for the university’s commitment to student-centred learning from 1997-2007. In that role, she also built a teaching centre that would become renowned across the country, taking many of the staff who worked there under her wing along the way. 

“A testament to her mentorship, many of the staff she hired at TSS have gone on to influence post-secondary education at the provincial and national levels, securing senior leadership roles at institutions like Queen’s University, the University of Calgary, Wilfred Laurier University, and the University of Waterloo,” Hannon noted. 

Following her tenure as director of the TSS, Christensen Hughes was appointed dean of the newly created College of Management and Economics, becoming the founding dean of the Gordon S. Lang School of Business and Economics (2009-2019), establishing its unique vision of “being and developing leaders for a sustainable world”. Under her guidance, Lang’s MBA was ranked in the top ten in the world by Corporate Knights.  

Rodenberg, Christensen Hughes’ former University of Guelph colleague, recalled that it was under Julia’s leadership that the Lang School raised over $30 million – “establishing a vision that unites business education with sustainable and ethical practices.”

“One donor who named the school, cited the importance of her values-based and visionary leadership as critical determining factors for this significant financial support that represented the largest gift ever given to the University of Guelph,” Rodenberg said. 

It was also during this time that Christensen Hughes, whose vision aligned with the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals, was invited to speak at the UN’s celebration of the 15th anniversary of the UN Global Compact in 2015

“She presented the education sector’s perspective on approaches to ensuring that business becomes a source for good through responsible management education, which includes interdisciplinary curriculum innovation, new models of collaborative problem solving in and with the community, and the delineation of learning outcomes for social impact and transformation,” Mighty recalled. 

That kind of commitment to responsible, ethical and caring practices has been a recurring theme throughout Christensen Hughes’ scholarship and leadership. In 2006, she and her collaborator, Dr. Donald McCabe, published the results of the largest-ever pan-Canadian study of academic integrity in higher education across two articles: Understanding Academic Misconduct and Academic Misconduct within Higher Education in Canada. Touted as a seminal work, the study sparked significant media coverage – including a Maclean’s magazine cover story and numerous CBC Radio interviews – as well as scholarly collaborations in the almost two decades that followed. 

In 2022, Christensen Hughes was invited to co-edit the book, Academic Integrity in Canada: An Enduring and Essential Challenge, by Sarah Elaine Eaton, the leading authority on academic integrity in Canada today. The book comprised of over 30 chapters, including the first work showcasing Indigenous authors and their perspectives on academic integrity. 

“Dr. Christensen Hughes led by example with her commitment to open access by dedicating a substantial amount of research funding to ensuring the entire book was published open access,” added Eaton, her co-editor on the project. “As a result, less than two years after its publication in 2022, the book has been downloaded more than 360,000 times.” 

Julia Christensen Hughes

Since joining Yorkville University – Canada’s largest private university – as President and Vice Chancellor in 2021, Christensen has led the creation of the university’s Signature Learning Outcomes – a school-wide commitment to developing the next generation of ethical, highly skilled and socially conscious business leaders, psychotherapists, educators, and creative storytellers and designers.

Under Christensen Hughes’ visionary leadership, Yorkville has become a hub for innovative approaches to “relationship-rich”, accessible education, with distinctive capabilities in: the creation of an exceptional student experience; high-demand, career-relevant programs; leading student recruitment practices; and high-quality faculty with a commitment to student engagement. 

She regularly contributes to and creates platforms for leading experts to collaborate and exchange ideas, resulting in tangible outcomes that have influenced policy and practice across higher education – including recently at Hope Summits, a 2023 gathering of post-secondary leaders across Canada with the shared goal of transforming higher education institutions into spaces that prioritize equity, justice, democracy, and empathy. 

“Dr. Julia Christensen Hughes’s breakfast presentation … titled Bringing Caring, Community, and Confrontation into the Academy: Embracing Ubuntu and an Ethic of Care, left an indelible impact on attendees, resonating deeply with its powerful message of fostering inclusivity and compassion within academic institutions,” said Riddell, Hope Summits’ coordinator. 

Riddell said that, by drawing upon the principles of Ubuntu and an ethic of care, Christensen Hughes challenges traditional notions of academia, advocating for a more holistic approach that prioritizes the well-being and interconnectedness of all individuals within the academic community and beyond.

“Her insightful discourse prompted attendees to reflect on their own roles within higher education and inspired a collective commitment to cultivating environments that nurture empathy, understanding, and collaboration,” she added. 

A passionate advocate for innovation and integrity in student learning, Christensen Hughes previously received many other awards and accolades for her service, including being named Professor Emerita and receiving the John Bell Award for Outstanding Teaching in University Education from the University of Guelph. She also received the Sheffield Award from the Canadian Society for the Study of Higher Education, for research judged to be “most excellent” in the Canadian Journal of Higher Education

Her other published work includes the co-edited books Taking Stock 2.0: Transforming Teaching and Learning in Higher Education (2022); Taking Stock: Research on Teaching and Learning in Higher Education (2010); and Curriculum Development in Higher Education: Faculty-Driven Processes and Practices (2007). Her most recent journal articles have focused on the need to better align university rankings and faculty research with the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals. 

Christensen Hughes earned her undergraduate BComm from the University of Guelph and both her MBA and PhD from the Schulich School of Business at York University; her dissertation was on the topic of organizational empowerment.

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