Holding students to high standards
2006 Award for Excellence in Teaching
Olga Reyes: making it easy for students to say “I don’t know.”
Photo: Kathryn Marchetti
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.
As a UIC student majoring in psychology, Olga Reyes had a very specific idea of where her career path would lead.
“I, like many undergrads, had romantic notions of becoming a psychologist and hanging a shingle, getting a leather couch, and charging people megabucks per hour,” said Reyes, associate professor of psychology.
That plan eventually faded, but what remained was a sincere interest in human behavior, listening to people’s stories and trying to help them.
Reyes developed a greater interest for research and teaching as a graduate student working with DePaul University professor Leonard Jason.
“I became more excited about the potential of research to have much more of a wide reaching impact,” said Reyes, whose current research focuses on high-risk behaviors among urban minority with a particular emphasis on risk for dropping out of school among urban Latino youth.
She was equally inspired by Jason’s instructional approach, which produced stimulating conversation and vigorous debate.
“He kept us engaged and made us think. He didn’t talk a lot but it made it very easy for us to talk a lot.”
Today she is considered one of the most demanding teachers in the psychology department, but Reyes hasn’t lost her perspective from the other side of the lectern.
She admits as an undergraduate she was reluctant to speak up and say, “I have no idea what you are talking about.”
“I try to make it easy for students to say that,” she said. “At the same time, I hold them to standards that a lot of them don’t like.”
Reyes’ students are offered support, in and out of the classroom, and extra credit opportunities to meet her courses’ high requirements.
Writing assignments and essay exams are a common thread between her courses on all levels.
“One of the greatest skills you can possibly walk away with is knowing how to write and knowing how to communicate your ideas on paper,” she said.
While aiming to be an ally in the learning process, Reyes says it’s important that students offer feedback and act like consumers.
“Their course with me is a purchase that they and their parents are making,” she said.
“They are entitled to be satisfied with the purchase for whatever use they want.”