Allan Wesley received a 2021 Distinguished Teaching Award.
Allan Wesley describes himself as an "accidental teacher" — he just couldn't say no to new opportunities.
In their mid-30s, Wesley and his wife sold off their bookkeeping business. Too young to retire, Wesley decided to follow in his wife's footsteps and go back to school. He studied actuarial science, during which a professor told him he had the "personality for teaching."
"I smiled politely, but inside I thought, 'you're nuts, you're crazy!'" he says.
But when that same prof set him up to talk with MacEwan's chair of the Department of Mathematics and Statistics, Wesley attended the meeting with an open mind. Making a connection with the chair, he accepted an opportunity to teach a Tuesday evening statistics lab — which is how he "accidentally" got into teaching. Since then, he has relished being at the head of the classroom, eventually becoming assistant professor in the Decision Sciences department in the School of Business.
As a recipient of a 2021 Distinguished Teaching Award, Wesley has demonstrated a love for teaching and a gift for sharing his passion (yes, passion) for statistics, compound interest and business math. We asked Wesley about that love of teaching, his love-hate relationship with statistics and insightful advice from a role model.
MacEwan University’s Distinguished Teaching Awards recognize outstanding faculty members who have shown extraordinary commitment to teaching and have inspired their students and colleagues. Watch for the 2021 award winners' profiles throughout August: Dr. Sara Grewal (assistant professor, English), Dr. Cam Macdonell (associate professor and chair of the Department of Computer Science), Eaman Mah (instructor, English as an Additional Language) and Allan Wesley (assistant professor, Decision Sciences).
Q.What drew you to your discipline?
I actually teach in three disciplines: finance and business math, operations management and statistics. I've always loved math. It's like a puzzle. You're figuring something out. With operations management, it's about organizing things in a way that's most efficient. (I'm one of those people that if I have to run a series of errands, I will optimize my distance and time for efficiency.) Statistics is a little bit more complex.
I took my very first statistics class in university. I hated every moment of it. It made no sense to me whatsoever. But I worked my way through the gobbledygook and then took my second statistics class. I hated the second class even more than I hated the first. It was gobbledygook squared. After graduating, I worked for a while, and then went back for my master's — where I had to take stats again.
This time, a girl in my stats class showed me a different, more simplified way to look at statistics — how it works and the simple principles you need to follow. It clicked! Suddenly all the possibilities that you can use statistics for opened up to me. I married that girl.
Now I have a bachelor's degree in actuarial science, which is basically probability and statistics on steroids, and a master's degree in economics, which is applied statistics.
Q.Statistics seems to be the one class most students dread. How do you teach it?
People do come into statistics with a lot of preconceptions and a lot of baggage. If the instructor is not over-the-top excited about this stuff, the students cannot be expected to bring excitement into the classroom either, and for the most part, they don't. That's okay.
I approach statistics from the point of view of someone who hates it and doesn't get it. In most fields, you can kind of assume a certain knowledge base, but that assumption is often sketchy. So when I teach statistics, I assume nothing. I start with building blocks and go step by step with very clear instructions and procedures. Once you understand how the procedures work, then you begin to understand the whole process and it's easier to do the analysis part.
Q.What do you love most about teaching?
I like the interaction with the students. Their energy and optimism keep my mind a little bit young and gives me a youthful outlook on life.
I also like when I can take somebody who doesn't get stats and turn it around so it starts to make sense. I can see when the light turns on, and it's like I'm reliving my own lightbulb moment. When you see that happen for a student, it's really exciting.
Q.What is your favourite lesson to teach students?
I really like teaching compound interest because it's a way you can actually make money. You put in some money and you loan it out or buy shares in a corporation. You get dividends, and then you take the money from those dividends and reinvest it so that money earns interest in dividends on top of itself. It's a cascade of earning interest on top of interest. This is the way you actually accrue wealth in a realistic manner. Warren Buffett calls it a "get rich slow" scheme. It doesn't take any additional effort. You just need to have saved the money in the first place and then let the money work for you.
Q.Who is one of your teaching role models?
My father, Allister Wesley. He was not a teacher but a salesperson. One of the fundamental sales lessons that he taught me really applies to teaching. When you go to sell to a potential customer, they will ask you a set of questions. Your next potential customer will ask many of the same questions. And you'll begin to find that they ask the same questions over and over again. So you have to keep in mind that even though you've heard that question 5,000 times, it's the first time that person has asked it and they deserve an answer such that it's the first time you have heard it. So you deliver that answer with excitement whether it's the first time or 5,000th because it was the first time that person asked. You need to keep that level of patience, enthusiasm and engagement.
Dr. Sara Grewal receives Distinguished Teaching Award
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