Campus News

Teaching Excellence award acknowledges passion for design and instruction

As any graduate from the Interior Design Technology (IDT) program will tell you, a well-designed space can foster feelings of well-being, comfort and home.

For IDT instructor Cherie Reitzel, southern Alberta, Lethbridge and Lethbridge College have felt like spaces designed just for her.

Reitzel was raised, educated and worked all her life in southern Ontario, but a visit to western Canada created an itch to move. In 2013, she emailed every post-secondary institution with an interior design program west of the Alberta border seeking employment opportunities. In the summer of 2015, she sold her house and almost everything in it and headed west with her two children, to a job at Lethbridge College.

“It was the best thing we’ve ever done,” she says.

She’s close to the mountains she loves, her work was just recognized with a Teaching Excellence award, and she and her family are thriving. Not coincidentally, so is the IDT program.

“I had eight or nine students in my first year (2015),” she says. “This year, I had 31 and we’re on track for 50 to 60 in the fall. I am really happy and proud of that.”

Excellence in Teaching 2018 Cherie Reitzel.jpg

Key to this growth is her focus on building relationships — with teachers at the area’s high schools, college colleagues, industry partners, students and potential students.

Reitzel, who is working on her Master of Science in Interior Architecture Degree from Chatham University, Pittsburgh, is also immersed in research. With support from the Centre for Applied Research and Innovation Fund (now called the Scholarship and Applied Research Fund), Reitzel is rethinking energy efficient and flexible housing with an eye to maximizing efficiency in the virtual realm before ever breaking ground.

She’s also constantly pursing informal research on industry trends and innovation to incorporate new content in her courses.

Reitzel continues to work in the field, designing spaces on campus, like Founders’ Square, and doing private work, whether a restaurant or heritage building. The work she champions is more than esthetic. Students learn spatial psychology and interior architecture to create spaces people want to occupy, and they do it with cutting-edge technology to animate designs.

“I’m pretty competitive,” she says. “I want my students to be competitive. I want the best and the newest for them. I want our school to be the leader. I want to win because of the heart we put into it.”

When it comes to heart, Reitzel is all in. As one student described it, she “makes it her mandate to have us succeed.”

She was deeply touched to receive the teaching award and is thrilled every time a student overcomes challenges and develops self-confidence.

“It’s motivational,” Reitzel says. “Without that, I don’t think I would teach. I wouldn’t see the point of it.”

Joining Reitzel in winning Teaching Excellence awards this year were Shane Roersma (Environmental Science) and Cyndi Starzyk-Frey (General Studies). General Studies instructor Florian Linder received the Rookie of the Year award. All four were recognized at the Honouring Excellence event April 26.