Distinguished teacher encourages design students to dig deeper

October 26, 2016

Constanza Pacher receives 2016 Distinguished Teaching Award

Four faculty members received one of MacEwan University’s highest honours in 2016 for outstanding teaching and their commitment to education leadership. Raymond Baril, Constanza Pacher, Holly Symonds-Brown and Ross Shaw are the most recent Distinguished Teaching Award recipients.

Your prof could be next! Nominations for 2017 Distinguished Teaching Awards are open until December 15, 2016.


It’s 9 p.m. on a Tuesday night a few weeks before the semester begins. Constanza Pacher has tucked her children into bed and is on a Skype call with her mother in Argentina. They're scouring books together long-distance, trying to find the perfect text for the Design Studies faculty member’s Typography class.

“It feels a bit like we’re co-teachers for this project,” laughs Constanza, whose mother teaches literature in Argentina. “Finding texts that have layers my students can play with is a big part of my preparation, because designers do much more than make things look good. Their product has to communicate, and the design has to be intricately tied to the text they are working with.”

So Constanza is careful to take the time to find content that is appealing and challenging enough to spark great conversations and inspire her students—and herself—to dig deeper.

“We try to throw inhibitions out the door so students can focus on what they can bring to their project as individuals. We should end up with as many solutions to the design problem as there are students in the class.”

Figuring out exactly how to coach her students to achieve that took some time.

“ Not planning exactly where I want them to end up allows students to take things much further than I ever imagined.” constanza pacher 

“When I first started teaching, I took students through a very specific set of steps, but at the end of the course, I found that all the projects were basically the same—and that was disappointing,” says Constanza. “I knew that things should be more organic—so I took a different approach. Now, we go back and forth between steps, we take different avenues and we find our processes. Not planning exactly where I want them to end up allows students to take things much further than I ever imagined.” 

That typography project Constanza puts so much effort into choosing a text for is a prime example. It consistently takes on a life of its own and ends up being about much more than a grade.

“The collective energy that comes from that project is priceless,” says Constanza. “We all know that the final product will be a real, printed book in which every student designs their own spread. For those few weeks, the classroom doesn’t feel at all like a classroom anymore. It’s a design studio filled with people who are working incredibly hard and are passionate about the same thing.”

It shows in the final product.

“Every year the work gets better. Every year we push the design further. No two spreads look alike, and that’s one of the things I’m most proud of. Every time I hold a class’s newly finished book in my hand, I feel like a coach whose team just finished the big game. Whether we won ‘the game’ or not doesn’t really matter. I know that we have accomplished something great.”

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