KPE’s Sandhya Mylabathula wins 2022 Course Instructor Teaching Excellence Award

Sandhya Mylabathula is the 2022 winner of the U of T Course Instructor (CI) Teaching Excellence Award for her course on the impact of concussion (photo courtesy of Sandhya Mylabathula)
Sandhya Mylabathula is the 2022 winner of the U of T Course Instructor (CI) Teaching Excellence Award for her course on the impact of concussion (photo courtesy of Sandhya Mylabathula)

Sandhya Mylabathula, a PhD student and course instructor at the University of Toronto Faculty of Kinesiology and Physical Education (KPE), is the winner of the 2022 Course Instructor (CI) Teaching Excellence Award. The award was established in 2015 by the U of T Teaching Assistants Training Program (TATP) to recognize one graduate student whose outstanding work as a sole-responsibility course instructor shows evidence of educational leadership, meaningful contributions to course and curriculum development and impact on student learning.

Mylabathula won the award for her course on the impact of concussions – from management and recovery to concussion policy and science communication. 

“Winning the CI Teaching Excellence Award feels surreal,” she said. “There are so many incredible graduate students doing amazing work as course instructors at this university, and it is such an honour and a privilege to be counted amongst them and to have my work recognized with this award.”

Mylabathula has twelve years of experience in the field of concussion, starting with writing a Private Member’s Bill on a national strategy to address concussions across Canada with her twin sister Swapna, a PhD student in the Temerty Faculty of Medicine, when they were both undergraduate students. This was accompanied by more advocacy work, research, awareness and education initiatives - and teaching.  

“I wove all these experiences into my course, while also connecting with the Faculty to understand what the gaps were in existing course offerings on the topic,” she says.

The course asked students to consider often overlooked perspectives about concussions, debate and consider different perspectives, and practice how to communicate what they learn – on the topic of concussions or anything other – through a science communication approach.

“This latter piece is relevant no matter what field they end up in and is fun and effective at the same time,” says Mylabathula, who speaks from personal experience. She is a coordinator for Let’s Talk Science at U of T and one half of the @steam.sisters doing science communication and outreach with her twin sister Swapna. Their award-winning YouTube show STEAM Stars celebrates women in science, technology, engineering, art and math, and their most recent show, The STEAM League, is currently in season two. 

“As a science communicator, I am passionate about sharing my enthusiasm for science and learning with others,” says Mylabathula. “In a stepwise process, I coached my students to use their creativity and content knowledge to develop their own material and present to a live audience, which many students shared was their favourite part of the course.”

Teaching during COVID-19 meant Mylabathula’s course was delivered online, so she invested time and effort into keeping her students engaged. She invited guest lecturers to share their perspectives, including Ken Dryden, a Canadian politician and former National Hockey League goaltender, and Dana Sinclair, a psychologist, who shared her practical experiences working with high-profile athletes and entertainment professionals. She balanced this with interactive and group activities to encourage her students to apply the course content. 

While this is Mylabathula’s first teaching award, it’s not her first brush with teaching. She was a longtime teaching assistant at the Faculty for the undergraduate and Master of Professional Kinesiology (MPK) programs and is grateful for the advice and support received from Associate Professor Lynda Mainwaring, her supervisor, and Associate Professor Doug Richards, her longtime teaching supervisor and committee member. 

“This advice from seasoned and inspiring educators helped me build my confidence for my first sole-responsibility course instructor role,” she says.

She’s also grateful for the support from Iain McPherson, KPE’s lead instructional designer, for providing her with approachable and reliable technical support in setting up her course on Quercus, and the Faculty for giving her the opportunity to deliver this course.

“I love the process of teaching, from preparation to connecting with other professionals to delivery to learning from feedback to connecting with students and helping them realize their learning goals,” says Mylabathula. “Having the privilege of contributing to their academic journey while sharing my passion and excitement for a topic that I feel is so timely and important was really rewarding."

Mylabathula will be focusing next on completing her doctoral research while continuing to engage in science communication, outreach and concussion policy advocacy. But first, she will be speaking with the other award finalists at the 15th University of Toronto Teaching and Learning Symposium.