Oleksa Drachewych, the 2023 recipient of the Faculty of Social Science Dean’s Award for Excellence in Teaching

June 19, 2023

Oleksa Drachewych

Oleksa Drachewych is the 2023 recipient of the Faculty of Social Science Dean’s Award for Excellence in Teaching, an honour that recognizes his exceptional contributions to teaching and learning within the Faculty.

Since 2019, Drachewych has taught a mandatory course “The Western Tradition in International Relations Theory and Practice”, which serves as a cornerstone in the undergraduate program in International Relations. Drachewych took the initiative and redesigned the course into a thought-provoking and transformative learning experience. His innovative approach challenges students to critically reflect on the ideas present in the Western canon of international relations theory, as well as to examine the voices that have been historically excluded from this canon.

Drachewych's teaching philosophy revolves around empowering students to actively engage in their own learning. “I like to open doors for students, introducing them to new ideas, or ideas they may not have yet been exposed to. Then I like to give students a chance to grapple with the ideas and the contexts in which they developed,” Drachewych says. He encourages students to question established ideas, offering a supportive and collaborative environment where their voices are valued. Rather than positioning himself as the sole authority in the classroom, Drachewych serves as a guide and mentor, helping students develop their own ideas through discussion and reflection. This constructively subversive approach fosters independent and creative thinking, as well as the development of critical analytical skills. “Often students are not aware of the assumptions underwriting their thinking and I try to constructively provide students an opportunity to grapple with those assumptions. Sometimes students won’t know how they feel about a concept or idea; others may know in the moment but, later, start to question it. I take inspiration from some of my own learning, where some concepts didn’t click with me until I came at them from a different angle. Now many of those perspectives inform my research and teaching. As a result, I encourage students to see their learning as a multi-year process,” Drachewych explains. “It’s okay to say you don’t know - I think that helps students focus on learning and understanding.”

Beyond his dedication to teaching, Drachewych demonstrates a keen understanding of how history relates to current public policy discussions. As an expert in Russian history and global communism, he integrates real-world events, such as the ongoing Russian war on Ukraine, into his course. By bridging the gap between historical understanding and contemporary world affairs, Drachewych ensures that his students gain a comprehensive perspective on international relations.

The impact of Drachewych's teaching is evident in the outstanding course evaluations he receives from students. His course consistently receives higher rates of satisfaction. Students appreciate his welcoming and supportive teaching style, describing the learning environment as positive, inclusive, and challenging. They praise his ability to foster open discussions and collaborative learning, resulting in increased participation and motivation among students.

Drachewych's commitment to innovative teaching methods is evident in the design of his course. He has developed a simulation exercise set in a fictional world, where students collaborate to create an international order based on different ideologies. This experiential learning approach enhances students' communication and negotiation skills while providing them with a deeper understanding of how ideologies shape international relations. The simulation serves as a masterclass in teamwork and innovative thinking, leaving a lasting impact on students' academic and personal development. Beyond the classroom, Drachewych's influence extends to academic counseling, tutoring, and mentoring. Students recognize his dedication and support, and his teaching methods have positively influenced their learning experiences in other courses. His commitment to graduate education is also commendable, as he actively participates in supervising graduate students' theses and comprehensive fields, providing constructive feedback and guidance.

Established in 2016, the Dean's Award for Excellence in Teaching recognizes faculty members who have demonstrated excellence in teaching. By honouring such individuals, the Faculty of Social Science demonstrates its commitment to teaching as a scholarly endeavour, and highlights the importance of outstanding teaching to our Faculty.