One lesson many St. F.X. University students have learned is the brilliance of Dr. Martin van Bommel.
The computer science professor is the 2008 recipient of the Association of Atlantic University (AAU) Distinguished Teaching Award.
“My first reaction was ‘no way,’” van Bommel said during an interview at his campus office.
“It is flattering to be rewarded for something I enjoy doing so much.”
Awarding of the prestigious honour is based on an educator’s overall demonstration of knowledge, their ability to engage students and to inspire a lifelong interest in learning.
After graduating from St. F.X. in 1988, van Bommel said one of the lasting memories was the wonderful experience with his professors.
“What inspired me to go into teaching in the first place were the professors here at St. F.X. I was inspired by their interactions with students, treating them as individuals, taking the extra time and involving students in their research.”
The professor described it as a “dream come true” to return to his alma mater and to teach in the department from which he received his degree.
Since 1995, van Bommel has taught more than 20 different courses in computer science, information systems, engineering and mathematics.
“A lot of professors call it the ‘a-ha moment’ – when you see that a student is catching on,” van Bommel said in relating what he enjoys about teaching.
Along with his classroom duties, van Bommel supervises on average three students each academic year. He also chairs the departmental graduate studies committee, which directs the master’s in computer science program.
Since 1997, his research program has been strong, maintaining NSERC Discovery Grant support.
If that wasn’t enough, van Bommel is the chair of the department of mathematics, statistics and computer science since 2004.
“It has been so wonderful,” he said about his X experience.
The AAU award is not the first recognition van Bommel has received for his teaching abilities. In 2006, he garnered St. F.X.’s Outstanding Teaching Award.
It was not difficult to find people to sing the professor’s praises, including St. F.X. president Dr. Sean Riley, faculty members and former students. Several wrote complimentary letters of support for van Bommel’s nomination.
The qualities many noted that make van Bommel an exceptional educator are his passion for his work, dedication to students, and open door policy.
As much as the teaching, van Bommel takes pleasure in his connections with students.
“It is great to be able to form relationships with them outside the classroom,” he said, noting those connections often continue after students graduate.
The Back Road Brierly Brook native said he is flattered by the e-mails and messages he has received from former students.
“I received an email from a student who took a first-year course back in 1996. He said I allowed him to get over his fear of computers,” van Bommel said as he leafed through the message.
“Those are the types of occasions that make it all worthwhile.”
The youngest of 13 children – van Bommel said growing up on the family farm has been a key element in his teaching.
“It has helped me improve my teaching. I think I am able to treat my students as individuals.”
He added smaller classes – and even the larger ones – at X help build the quality one-on-one relationships.
For van Bommel, his achievement is deeply-rooted in family –at X and especially at home. He credited his wife Dianne and children Christopher, Matthew and Rebecca.
“They are such a special part of this honour,” he said.
van Bommel received his award Sept. 17 in Fredericton.
“I have never had a day I did not love teaching,” he concluded.