Life-mapping in the classroom and beyond: Lee Swanson receives Master Teacher Award

Natasha Katchuk

Adventure writer Mark Jenkins said that “planning a journey without a map is like building a house without drawings … maps encourage boldness … They make anything seem possible.”

Described as a ‘coach’ and ‘mentor’ by students and colleagues alike, associate professor Dr. Lee Swanson has developed a reputation as an educator, including through his work with student research assistants on his social entrepreneurship, business ecosystems, Indigenous governance, and Indigenous capacity building projects.

Now in his thirteenth year of teaching at USask, the associate professor in the Department of Management and Marketing at the Edwards School of Business, and former director of the Edwards InVenture Entrepreneurship initiative, was honoured at the University of Saskatchewan’s 2021 Spring Convocation with the Master Teacher Award, the university’s highest level of recognition for teaching excellence.

The Master Teacher Award recognizes faculty members who make outstanding contributions to teaching through a vibrant learning environment, positivity, professional growth, and leadership.

Swanson explained his teaching philosophy is a transformative process that moves beyond teaching in the classroom by helping learners to see the possibilities and pathways that exist for their lives in addition to learning entrepreneurship.


Swanson centers his teaching style around helping learners confidently and effectively map their lives forward from the classroom into their careers.

Through the creation of a unique and impactful learning environment, Swanson meets learners on their terms by embracing their values and worldviews as a first step in empowering them to choose their own path toward success.

"Life-mapping is a way for learners to think about where they are, imagine where they want to be in their personal and professional lives, and consider what route they should take to get there," said Swanson, who received the Provost’s College Award for Outstanding Teaching and the Edwards Dean’s Award for Teaching Innovation. Swanson feels it is important that learners see for themselves how what they are doing in the classroom connects with their future aspirations. 

Dr. Lee Swanson's learner's life-map

Experiential learning

Through real-life projects and living case studies, Swanson encourages active learning in his classes. This approach is designed to help students learn to think critically and objectively, focus on what is meaningful, and develop excellent planning, communication, and other skills for life-success.

"At the waypoints, learners acquire the skills and perspectives needed for the journey," said Swanson. "As they approach their planned destination, a life-map perspective can help them see the potential beyond and, with the expertise they gained on the journey, they should feel prepared and possibly motivated to set new goals."

The teacher as a guide 

Swanson walks with his students every step of the way. Like a good guide, he regularly asks, "Where are you at?" "Where do you want to go?" and "What is the next best step?"

"As an educator, I see my role as providing the knowledge, skills, and inspiration learners need as they navigate their life-map," explained Swanson. "I strive to provide respectful, personalized, and ethical mentorship to not only help students visualize – like on a map – where they can be and a pathway to get there, but to also see the possibilities beyond that."

This supportive learning environment in which students discover their ‘pathways’ is what elevates Swanson’s teaching philosophy beyond teaching skills to shaping the lives of students’ years after students complete his class.

"I want to help learners understand where they are, the possibilities they have, their pathways to achieving goals, and their potential for further success," said Swanson. "I aspire to help students navigate their life-map for life-long success."

The Edwards School of Business thanks associate professor Dr. Lee Swanson for his dedication to community-engaged learning. Congratulations on your well-deserved Master Teacher Award!

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