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A tireless advocate for science education

2006 Award for Excellence in Teaching

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Maria Varelas
Maria Varelas: teaching is about “learning, interacting, helping, empathizing, laughing, pondering, challenging.”

Photo: Roberta Dupuis-Devlin


The Award for Excellence in Teaching, a $5,000 salary increase, is UIC’s only peer-selected teaching award. Winners are chosen by those who received the award in past years.

Maria Varelas is a tireless advocate for science education.

She began her commitment to educating elementary and secondary school teachers in science nearly 20 years ago as a PhD student in UIC’s program in curriculum design.

Since 1993, her teaching contributions have centered on teaching courses for future teachers; supporting curriculum, teacher and program development; teaching courses for doctoral students in education; and mentoring educators and educational researchers.

Among her guiding principles for teaching children, future teachers and researchers is being able to meet students where they are and attending to cognitive, social and emotional aspects of learning in a classroom.

With grants from the National Science Foundation, she has co-led professional development of more than 100 faculty at UIC and community colleges and the development of new science courses for elementary education majors.

She also mentors graduate students in the colleges of Liberal Arts and Sciences and Engineering. Her contributions to urban classrooms include integrated science-literacy units that she has developed and been studying in Chicago Public School primary-grade classrooms with colleague Christine Pappas, six teacher-researchers and 13 education graduate students.

She also spends time helping Project ESTEEM, a student volunteer project for homeless children.

Victoria Chou, dean of education, says if ever a faculty member deserved every campus teaching award, Varelas would be the one.

“In my 27 years at UIC, including the year as chair of the Council for Excellence in Teaching and Learning, I have not yet met another UIC faculty member with such a comprehensive, high-quality portfolio of teaching activities,” Chou wrote in her nominating letter for the award.

To be recognized for contributing to the scientific understanding of future and practicing teachers and children is “humbling, yet uplifting,” Varelas said.

“This is a wonderful honor and I’m pleased to be part of a group who have earned such distinction,” she said.

“It’s awards like this that help us remember and celebrate what teaching, as a significant part of our job as academics, is all about.

“It is about learning, interacting, helping, empathizing, laughing, pondering, challenging, arguing, worrying, finding new ways, feeling good, stretching and being stretched.”

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