Andrea Charise is always looking for creative ways to help her students feel comfortable about exploring uncomfortable topics.
Her teaching, which explores health, illness and aging through the arts and humanities, can cover emotionally challenging and difficult material. At the same time, it’s material that offers important insights into the core of what it means to be human.
“As a researcher, I am frequently confronted with difficult material that challenges simple and cozy conclusions about what it means to grow old. To create an environment where students feel comfortable exploring such vulnerability, I am really frank with them about the difficult rewards of turning to the arts to gain insight into the human condition,” she says.
Charise, an assistant professor in the Interdisciplinary Centre for Health & Society at U of T Scarborough, is one of three recipients of this year’s U of T Early Career Teaching Award. The award recognizes faculty members who show an exceptional commitment to student learning, engagement and teaching innovation.
Charise’s teaching and research focuses mostly on health humanities and arts-based health research methods, with an emphasis on aging, old age, and intergenerational relationships.
“My aim has always been to give students a strong sense of what the arts and humanities bring to our understanding of health and illness. And in turn, why what we think of as health and wellness must actively integrate the arts and creative practices more broadly,” she says.
She likes to integrate ‘old-school’ practices like reading out loud, close reading, and in-class discussion with more performative, interactive, even disruptive in-class activities. For example, a project for her course Introduction to Health Humanities (HLTB50) gets students to prepare a short, impromptu play based on content from the course textbook.
“It often leads to great conversations about the nature of consent, power, and different roles in health settings. It’s a big hit and my students often tell me years later that it’s a truly memorable aspect of the course,” she says.
She also recently led a team of students in creating The Resemblage Project, a digital humanities storytelling project that challenges notions of what it means to grow older – for younger people especially.
In 2017, Charise led the development of Canada's first – and currently only – minor program in Health Humanities at U of T Scarborough. She is also the founding director and principal investigator of SCOPE, an arts- and humanities-based research and education initiative.
She has received numerous teaching awards and research grants in both health sciences and literary studies over her career, including a John Charles Polanyi Prize and a UTSC Teaching Award, and also speaks regularly at conferences in both the humanities and health sciences, and serves on the International Health Humanities Network (IHHN)’s International Advisory Board. Her first book, The Aesthetics of Senescence: Aging, Population, and the Nineteenth-Century British Novel, was published in 2020.
Charise joins Assistant Professor Jill Carter (Centre for Drama, Theatre, and Performance Studies), Assistant Professor Rachel La Touche (Department of Sociology), and Assistant Professor Suzanne Wood (Department of Psychology) in receiving this year’s award.
“This award is so meaningful on a personal level because my teaching often involves working with students who have little to no background in the humanities, let alone literature or the arts,” she says.