Professors' Picks: Most impressive students

Queen's educators share stories of students' astounding assignments and work ethic

Queen’s prides itself on attracting the most qualified professors from across the world to impart their knowledge on students. Even though our university’s faculty includes members at the top of their fields, many of them still come across students whose creativity and intelligence exceed their wildest expectations.

The Journal asked Queen’s profs to share moments they’ve been most impressed with their students. As the academic year comes to a close, we hope these stories remind you of the incredible heights every student is capable of reaching and the lasting impact your work can have on others.

These responses were edited for length and clarity.

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“At my students’ final performance projects last year, I encountered weird, wonderful experiments all over a building on campus—from giant puppets in the theatre, to a show in a basement bathtub. 

In one example, a group staged a performance in my own office. They had audience members enter the darkened space, put on headphones, close their eyes, and ‘just enjoy the music.’ 

As a spectator, I became restless and opened my eyes. The student performers had, in the meantime, climbed onto my desk and were silently acting out a bizarre piece of physical theatre in which the desk was a rowboat. Only those audience members who ‘disobeyed’ the instructions and opened their eyes had any idea it was even happening. 

In its exploration of witnessing and disobedience it was bold, creative, and risky—all qualities I want to encourage in students.

In its exploration of witnessing and disobedience it was bold, creative, and risky—all qualities I want to encourage in students. 

I would say, though, that I’m consistently most impressed by students who come to me and ask for help. 

Whether they’re working through mental health issues, trying to balance family responsibilities, or just struggling adjusting to university, it takes guts to ask for help—but there’s real strength in doing so.”

—Assistant Professor Kelsey Jacobson, Dan School of Drama and Music

“This is hard to answer because I’m impressed every week by something that someone says in my class, which is why I love to teach. 

But perhaps the most memorable assignment I received was in my class on literary theory on the topic of the work of Luce Irigaray, a French feminist philosopher. 

Irigaray says we need to ‘jam the theoretical machinery.’ One student of mine handed in a jar of strawberry jam, containing his essay in fragments wrapped inside foil. I had to fish around in the jam, open the pieces of foil and stick them together (which wasn’t hard, except that they also stuck to me). It made a brilliant, if messy, point.

After that, I introduced a creative assignment into the theory class. The student in question is now a criminal defense lawyer.”

—Professor Maggie Berg, Department of English

“Recently, when going through my aging files, I was puzzled to find a handwritten essay from Doug M., a student in the first-year English course for which I was a teaching assistant 40 years ago at Western. We had no computers but plenty of ink then.

My concluding comment on Doug’s essay revived my memories. ‘This is a remarkable paper,’ I said, ‘[with] few comments on it because I have no complaint with anything in it.’

The paper, titled ‘The Ending of King Lear and the Tragic View of Life,’ remains brilliant.  What surprises me is the mark of 95, almost unheard of at that time. 

I’d taken the paper to the instructor, Ninian Mellamphy. Because he specialized in Renaissance drama, I feared I might be chastised for my uncritical reading. Instead he said that the only problem with giving it a mere 90 was that the student would have to maintain that mark throughout the course to receive a final grade of A plus. 

Why not give the paper a higher mark to reflect its unusual merit? 

We did that, since Mellamphy had the experience to appreciate Doug M.’s exceptional achievement."

—Professor Tracy Ware, Department of English

“Every so often a student comes along that amazes me with how committed they are to academia in the face of significant adversity.

Several years ago, a student said that she’d miss a few classes for medical reasons.  She didn’t say anything else, so I assumed it was a routine health matter. She promised me she would send summaries of the readings—though I didn’t ask for them—that way I knew she was keeping up with the classwork.  

Her ‘few’ absences turned into several weeks, but the reading summaries kept coming, along with apologies for not being in class. The only hint I had that it was perhaps more serious was that in one email she said, almost defiantly, that she was committed to finishing the term.  

She asked if she could write an essay in lieu of her final exam, as her recovery kept her from being in Kingston. I suggested she discuss the paper with me by phone.  

It was only when her housemate delivered the essay that I learned she’d called me from the hospital and that she was being treated for brain cancer.

It was only when her housemate delivered the essay that I learned she’d called me from the hospital and that she was being treated for brain cancer.

When I saw her the next term, I said I was impressed with her paper but that it paled in comparison to how impressed I was with her character. 

She was a bit misty eyed when she replied, ‘Thank you, but I really wanted to do well in your course.’”

—Professor Jonathan Rose, Department of Political Studies

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