It’s not common for professors to attempt to ride a unicycle in front of hundreds of students.
But that’s what happens when you take a class with Faculty of Physical Education and Recreation professor Brian Maraj, who teaches about, and demonstrates, the acquisition of motor skills.
And now, with 13,000 votes, Maraj has been selected to deliver the University of Alberta’s Last Lecture, part of a lecture series that celebrates instructors that have made the greatest contributions to students and alumni. On Thursday at 7 p.m. in CCIS 1-430, Maraj will be wrapping up the academic year by taking students on his own journey to the U of A.
Maraj said he’s happy to call the U of A home after being here for 16 years. Part of his joy comes from his role as an instructor. Students in the Faculty of Physical Education and Recreation take his classes in skill acquisition, motor development and “performance,” which students used to praise the experience of Maraj’s classes in the Last Lecture nominations.
“Maraj is the type of professor that can light up an entire lecture theatre with his charisma, enthusiasm, and passion. He is not only a lecturer, he is a performer,” one student said in their Last Lecture nomination for Maraj.
“Dr. Maraj’s excitement and energy caused students to actively participate,” another student said in their nomination. “He is not just a lecturer but is a true performer. As he would say: ‘it’s show time!’”
In addition to teaching, Maraj researches motor learning and control. In the past, he focused on investigating children with Down Syndrome and looked into how they learn motor skills.
Maraj didn’t start his career as a researcher, though. After completing his master’s degree in Physical Education at the University of Western Ontario in 1982, he became the varsity track and field head coach of York University, and then McMaster University. At McMaster, Maraj was in close proximity to three of the top motor skills acquisition researchers in the world, who ended up influencing him to earn a PhD in kinesiology himself.
“What they understood more than anything else was how people acquire skills, the scientific basis for that,” Maraj said. “I’m looking at people in my own area who are doing this stuff and was like: I need to know that!”
Maraj quit his job as a coach and went on to complete his PhD at the University of Waterloo in 1995. He then taught at the University of Colorado and Louisiana State University. He applied in 1999 to the U of A, where he has remained since.
Maraj described his teaching experience at the U of A as “magical.” It appears his students share the sentiment, as Maraj won the SALUTE Students’ Union Teaching Award of Teaching Excellence in 2011, for which students nominate and decide on winning instructors. This year, his students have done it again, voting him as Last Lecturer.
“It’s nice to be able to call a university home,” Maraj said of the support behind him in his 16 years at the institution. “This is as close as it could ever feel to feeling like you’re a part of it.”