Dr. Denise Nowicki: Awarding Excellence
Wednesday, August 23rd, 2023
NWP Instructor Dr. Denise Nowicki
Tucked away in the Humanities and Social Science storage room you will find boxes upon boxes of Dr. Denise Nowicki’s student portfolios. Other instructors would have discarded student work after the required retention period, but Dr. Nowicki keeps them in case her former students eventually need something from their work. This is a physical symbol that Dr. Nowicki is far more than the average instructor. She is a thoughtful and dedicated mentor, role modeling for her students how an educator can do so much more than educating.
With a passion for connection and supporting future educators, it is no surprise that Dr. Nowicki was recently selected for Northwestern Polytechnic’s 2023 Outstanding Teacher Award.
While working on her Bachelor of Science degree, Dr. Nowicki spent her summers at the Calgary Zoo as an interpreter. She ran programs and taught people about the different care requirements and needs of the animals at the zoo. “It was the ultimate classroom. And it was through that job that I realized that I loved teaching. I was already in my third year of my psychology degree, so I finished it and then went on to complete a Bachelor of Education,” said Dr. Nowicki. “Teaching just sort of happened for me, and I love doing it. There is no better feeling than when a student has that ‘aha’ moment.”
With both a Bachelor of Education and Bachelor of Science in Psychology from the University of Calgary, Dr. Nowicki started her teaching career in 1994 at St. Mary of the Lake School in Slave Lake, Alberta. It was here where she would leave her legacy as the founding member of the Enrichment program for Exceptional Students.
“I've always been particularly passionate about gifted students because they fall through the cracks a lot of the time,” she notes.
Dr. Nowicki believes that her psychology studies have given her an advantage when it comes to understanding the complexities of learning and how people acquire skills and knowledge. Since her time in Slave Lake, Dr. Nowicki has worked in various teaching positions in the K-12 system, and as a post-secondary faculty member at Vancouver Island University, school Principal in both Alberta and British Columbia, Diagnostic Clinic Coordinator for Northwest Peace FASD Network, and as a registered psychologist.
In 2008, she completed a PhD in Psychometrics at the University of Alberta.
Teaching and psychology seemed like a natural path for Dr. Nowicki as she always wanted to make a difference for children and youth. Now in her 10th year instructing at Northwestern Polytechnic, she finds herself in that exact position, shaping the education of future teachers and psychologists which in turn has a positive impact on the next generation of students. It’s the best kind of ripple effect.
“When the position came up at Northwestern Polytechnic to teach, I jumped on it because I thought I could have even more of an impact on the future of youth by sharing my knowledge and educating aspiring educators.”
At the beginning of her teaching career, she admits that her goal was to be an exceptional teacher. She would spend hours creating engaging lessons and reflecting on the success of those lessons. Dr. Nowicki admits she was several years into her career when she realized she needed to carefully reconsider the volume and depth of learning happening in the classroom.
Dr. Nowicki explained that the teaching profession generally places an emphasis on the teacher, when in fact it should be on whether the students are learning. “You have to really focus on the learners because they are the ones who need to be able to learn in a way that is unique to them. You can be the best teacher in terms of being exciting and entertaining and all that but if your students don't learn anything, then what is the point?”
Dr. Nowicki doesn’t consider teaching at Northwestern Polytechnic work. She has her dream job. “I get up in the morning and I can’t wait to get to work. July comes around and I can’t wait to go back to work in September.”
She is passionate and laser focused on empowering students with opportunity. “They grab it and run with it and it’s really cool to see.”
Dr. Nowicki’s students understand the value add of a great instructor. They are there because they want to make a difference, and every year she gets a great group of students which makes her job even better.
“When I go to work, I get the opportunity to explore and share and grow, but most importantly, I get to help others grow along the way.”