Wilson School of Design instructor wins Distinguished Teaching Award

Wed, Feb 28, 2024

Interior Design program chair and instructor Paola Gavilanez has won the Distinguished Teaching Award in the part-time teaching category. A fixture at the Wilson School of Design since 2009, Gavilanez’s impact reaches far beyond what her part-time title would suggest.

“I am so grateful that anybody would even think to include me in the nominations, let alone win the actual award,” says Gavilanez. “Teaching-like design-are a team sport, so my success here is really a reflection of the success of our students and everyone working at the Wilson School of Design.”

She began teaching part-time at KPU in 2009 and became the Interior Design Program Chair at KPU’s Wilson School of Design in 2023. Gavilanez is also a registered Interior Designer with the Interior Designers Institute of BC and Interior Designers of Canada, as well as being LEED AP ID+C and NCIDQ certified.

“Paola's dedication to education and her exemplary contributions to our academic community make her an ideal candidate for this esteemed recognition,” says Andhra Goundrey, Dean of the Wilson School of Design at KPU. “She connects with her students on a personal level, an authentic and supportive level, fostering trust and respect exploration within her classes. Paola is always at the forefront of pedagogical advancements, motivating both students and colleagues to strive for excellence.”

Gavilanez describes her teaching philosophy as one based on mentorship, recognition, and emotion. 

“I am a mentor and a teammate to my students,” Gavilanez explains. “It’s not about policing them, it’s about inspiring them to find who they want to be as a learner and as a designer. I try to make my classroom a safe space where we're part of the same team, where their success is our success, their brilliance is our brilliance.”

Teaching in this way creates strong bonds with her students, some of which have gone beyond the classroom and their time at KPU.

Paola Gavilanez on stage at KPU receiving her Distinguished Teaching Award.
Photo: Paola Gavilanez on stage at KPU receiving her Distinguished Teaching Award.

“It’s so rewarding and humbling to have students I’m not even teaching anymore reaching out to chat about their plans after graduation, or even just looking for advice,” Gavilanez adds. “Just that they respect my opinion enough to ask for advice is a huge highlight.”

Gavilanez believes that mentorship doesn’t stop at the classroom door, and her continued investment in her students has paid dividends. Even fourteen years after her first class, she’s still in touch with many of those alumni and they even take the time to come back to her classroom as guest speakers for her current students.

“I don’t believe that there is such a thing as a bad student, there's just bad circumstances,” says Gavilanez. “Thinking about the students as the whole person, not just the part that's in the classroom, also helps facilitate their success outside of the classroom.”

According to Gavilanez, one of her greatest academic achievements at KPU is having contributed to published work, specifically her book chapter in Using a Value Cycle Framework to Analyze Teamwork Capability as a Learning Outcome in Interior Design Studio Courses.

“Having published research in a textbook, it blows my mind because research has not been the primary focus of my academic career.”

Additionally, she is incredibly appreciative of the long-term part-time role she’s had at KPU. 

“It has not been easy keeping them both in tandem, but I’ve managed to have a very significant academic career at the same time that I’ve had my professional practice, of which I am very proud.”

Currently, Gavilanez is working closely with Teaching and Learning on implementing ePortfolios, or electronic portfolios, into the interior design program. An ePortfolio is an electronic collection of course-related work, experiences, volunteer positions, and any other relevant extracurricular activities, intended to showcase a student’s learning and aptitudes. 

Gavilanez represented KPU at the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U) Institute on ePortfolios in 2022/23. As KPU’s ePortfolio champion, Gavilanez is planning to attend and present at the PebbleBash 2024 conference in Edinburgh, Scotland in June with two student assistants.

Despite all her hard work and dedication to her students over the years, being presented with the Distinguished Teaching Award came as a total surprise to Gavilanez.

“I’m extremely grateful to anybody who had anything to do with nominating me. But any success I’ve had reflects our success as a team in the interior design program,” says Gavilanez. “I wouldn't have been able to do any of the work I've done within our program without the faculty in our department and the staff at the Deans Office. They work so hard, are so helpful, and are always there when you need them.”

Gavilanez received her Distinguished Teaching Award on Feb. 28 at the convocation ceremony for the Wilson School of Design.