Distinguished Alumni Award

2023 Distinguished Alumni Award 

Dr. Rita L. Irwin (BEd '77, Diploma in Education '84)


Throughout her career, well-known artist and renowned researcher, Dr. Rita L. Irwin, has maintained a deep commitment to the arts, curriculum studies and education. A teacher of teachers, Irwin is known for her community-oriented, participatory teaching style. Her belief in the importance of pedagogy and mentorship has fuelled her reputation as a respected national and international educational leader. 

With roots in rural southern Alberta, Irwin’s interest in the arts stems from a shared love of creative exploration with her mother. From that interest came a desire to improve education for all learners through artistic and creative avenues, leading her to the University of Lethbridge’s Faculty of Education in 1973. Following her time at ULethbridge, Irwin began her teaching career with the Lethbridge School Division, where she started as an art and drama specialist for elementary students. She soon became a district-wide visual arts consultant and arts and music specialist. Irwin continued her own education while teaching, first completing a Master of Education at the University of Victoria and then pursuing a doctoral program in art education at the University of British Columbia (UBC).  

After a few years as an assistant professor at Lakehead University in Ontario, Irwin returned to UBC in 1992 where she has remained firmly rooted as an integral part of the Faculty of Education ever since. While impacting the education of countless students as a respected professor, Irwin has also served in administrative roles that include heading UBC’s Department of Curriculum Studies (1999-2005) and serving as the Associate Dean of Teacher Education (2005-2015) before being named a Distinguished University Scholar in 2017.  

At the heart of her work, Irwin explores a range of questions and topics through photography, painting, poetry and prose. Her work has been published prolifically, and she has secured millions of dollars in research funding, including numerous Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC) grants. Irwin’s research interests have spanned in-service art education, teacher education, socio-cultural issues and curriculum practices. She is perhaps best known for her work in the development of a/r/tography, or inquiring through the process of art making, as a research methodology.  

Even with such a wide-ranging impact, Irwin has always remained connected to southern Alberta, establishing an endowment to ULethbridge early in her career for the long-standing Rita L. Irwin Scholarship for Arts Education, generously giving back to the program that began her own career path.