Skander Lazrak will tell you his calling was never teaching.
As a graduate student at the University of Montreal, he wanted only to do research, not be at the head of a class.
But he also knew standing behind a lectern was inevitable, given his ambitions of earning his PhD in finance from Concordia University. His goal was to continue doing work that would make him a thought leader rather than work on Bay Street and the front lines of the finance industry.
So no one was more surprised than Lazrak when he realized he loved being in front of students as a professor that first time he taught at U of M.
“I thought, ‘Wow, this is for me,’” he recalls. “That’s what I wanted to do. I can share my opinions, my knowledge. I can explain it all. That appeals to me personally.”
The way he does all of that also appeals to his students. Lazrak was honoured with the Goodman School of Business Award for Excellence in Teaching during Brock’s Spring Convocation on Thursday, June 16 and delivered the morning ceremony’s Convocation address.
Earning the distinction, he admits, is almost as surprising as learning he loved to teach.
“Recognition for teaching is really, really great, especially for my area,” Lazrak says. “I’m in finance. It’s usually dry and hard. That’s not easy, at least for undergraduates.”
Still, Lazrak has a way to make information stick, get mind-bending concepts across clearly and even convince some of his students to make finance the focus of their studies and futures.
“I let students know it’s in their best interest to learn this. I show them how important this is in real life,” Lazrak says. “I get them enthusiastic about the topic. I get them to see it’s interesting.”
As interesting as he saw teaching could be all those years ago in Montreal.
After experiencing that rush with the first lecture he gave, Lazrak knew for certain academia was his professional destiny. He trained in pedagogy while doing his PhD at Concordia to make sure he would be the best version of himself in front of a class, even though working on Bay Street was an appealing option.
“This is the best job for me,” he says. “I do research and then I teach students. I spark their enthusiasm in the subject. I feel it has an impact.”
But students continuously spark his enthusiasm, too. It’s a feedback loop, he explains. Students ask him questions; he asks them questions. They discuss current issues like real estate prices and consumer behaviour. He shares his knowledge and relevant examples often using math models. All in, it’s “something powerful,” he says.
But perhaps the most powerful of all — even more than winning an award affirming his career choice — is the ongoing relationships he establishes with those who really get what Lazrak does in a lecture hall.
He often has students provide him with their personal email addresses after graduation so they can stay in touch, no longer as mentor and protégé, but as equals.
“That’s the best thing, receiving that kind of recognition,” Lazrak says. “Once students finish their studies, they’re no longer students for me. They’re friends. We are now colleagues.”