Alberta computer science teacher receives 2023 McEwen Family Teacher Recognition Award
October 4, 2023
Said El Mejdani, a computer science teacher at Westwood Community High School in Fort McMurray, Alberta, has been honoured with the 2023 McEwen Family Teacher Recognition Award by UBC Faculty of Applied Science.
The annual award, established in 2010 by the McEwen family, aims to celebrate high school teachers who go above and beyond teaching the curriculum to ensure their students succeed both academically and personally.
The award also aims to encourage UBC Applied Science students, who nominate their former teachers for consideration, to reflect on the impact their teachers have had on their success.
El Mejdani was nominated by Manorama Joshi, a second-year mechanical engineering student, who says she first met El Mejdani when she was in Grade 5 at a local robotics competition, where he encouraged her to always pursue her avid interest in robotics and tech.
Being a girl in STEM
When Joshi entered high school and joined El Mejdani’s computer science and the robotics team, he continued to be a steadfast pillar of support — particularly during some tough times in her life.
“When things got even more stressful, he would tell me that being a girl in STEM is indeed difficult, but me making this path is slowly making it easier for the next generation,” Joshi wrote in her nomination letter.
“He understood my motive and drive and recognized that I wanted to make a difference, so he gave me the opportunity.”
During the COVID-19 pandemic, Joshi conceptualized a week-long, online workshop on STEM and computer science to engage students and motivate their learning. El Mejdani provided guidance on what to include in the workshop and helped her advertise the workshop through Westwood and his own networks. The workshop ended up running twice, attracting 60 participants from all across Alberta.
El Mejdani was also there to advise Joshi on her goal of starting a women in technology club at Westwood which continues to this day with training in coding and design, workshops for all students in the school, and community outreach events. Westwood has since received a 2022 AP Computer Science Female Diversity Award from the College Board (USA).
Recognizing a teacher's impact
Joshi, who went on to receive a Schulich Leader Scholarship, credits El Mejdani for inspiring her to work hard and excel, and to live with honesty, kindness and confidence.
“He instilled such a wondrous outlook in us as students that, to this day, I always think about him,” she wrote. “I am one student of the hundreds he has taught. If he has made such a significant impact in my life, I can only imagine how many of us are out there living the lifestyle we are living because of him.”
El Mejdani, who was awarded a Prime Minister’s Award for Teaching Excellence in 2019 and a 2023 Aspirations in Computing Regional Affiliate Educator Award from the U.S. National Centre for Women in Technology, has been involved in numerous projects to encourage his students to get involved with their community and obtain hands-on experience with technology. He holds a master’s degree in computer science and is a PhD candidate on imagery and numeric media science from the Université de Sherbrooke.
UBC Applied Science hosted an event on September 15 to celebrate El Mejdani’s receipt of the 2023 McEwen Family Teacher Recognition Award. Attendees included Dr. James (Jim) McEwen and his children, El Mejdani and his son, Joshi, and members of the UBC Applied Science community, including Dean James Olson.
El Mejdani will receive $2,000 for use towards his own professional development and $5,000 for school enrichment activities. He will also be asked to nominate a current high school student to receive a $5,000 scholarship to attend UBC. Joshi will receive $1,000 in recognition of her efforts as the student nominator.