2010 Silver Circle Awards
At commencement, UIC honors some of its best teachers
Clockwise: 2010 Silver Circle winners Barry Greenwald, David Hofman, Maripat King, Alex Kurzczaba and William Kohler.
Photos: Kathryn Marchetti
Since 1966, the Silver Circle Award has been presented to some of UIC’s best teachers. Winners, who are honored at their college commencements, receive $500 and their names join a long list of distinguished colleagues on a plaque in the lobby of University Hall. But what makes the award especially meaningful is its selection committee: the graduating seniors.
Adjunct lecturer of psychology
Liberal Arts and Sciences
Years at UIC: 45
“I’ve been here almost as long as the granite,” says Barry Greenwald, who arrived at UIC in fall 1965 to work in the Counseling Center and teach an occasional class.
He retired from the center in 1994, but continues to teach courses in the psychology of interviewing, abnormal psychology and psychological testing.
He aims to make lessons a personal experience for students in his classes, which range in size from 25 to 225.
“If you’re going to teach people, you’ve got to find a way to make the material you are sharing with them relevant to their lives,” he says.
“The basic core of my teaching has remained the same. Regardless of the size of my class, I really like you to feel that I’m speaking directly to you and that you are the only one in the room.”
Humor is an important teaching tool for Greenwald.
“I always say to people, particularly psychologists, ‘We do very serious work, but be careful that you don’t take yourself too seriously,’” he says.
Greenwald, who won Silver Circle Awards in 1970 and 2002, describes it as “the biggest honor you can get.”
“I’m very invested in teaching. I really want my students to be excited about what I’m sharing with them,” he says.
Greenwald has a small private practice in Oak Park, where he works with adults and couples in longer term psychotherapy.
“It’s mostly so I keep my fingers in actual clinical work and partly because I teach from a very clinical perspective,” he explains.
“It provides a very rich source of experience for me to be able to share with students and bring some of the concepts I am teaching to life.”
Associate professor of physics
Liberal Arts and Sciences
Years at UIC: 10
Tom Swift Jr., the sci-fi hero of novels bearing his name, gave David Hofman the idea to become a scientist with a sense of adventure.
“It got me thinking about how the world works and why that’s interesting, and how we can understand it and make life better,” says Hofman, a high-energy nuclear physicist now working in Geneva, Switzerland, with the Large Hadron Collider, the world’s most powerful atom smasher.
But his interest in physics really took flight in college, when the professor presented a physical demonstration that went “disastrously wrong.”
“It was a ball shooting across the room, missing where it was supposed to go. It hit the blackboard, split it, and it came down with a crash. Everybody roared,” recalls Hofman, who receives his second Silver Circle this year.
“This made me realize: this is actually interesting!”
Hofman spices up his lectures with hands-on demonstrations, YouTube videos and devices called “i> Clickers,” which students click to answer Hofman’s impromptu questions.
“Physics is not a dry science. It’s alive and around us all the time,” he says.
The Large Hadron Collider start-up has kept Hofman closer to the Alps than to Lake Michigan in recent months. He uses advanced video-conferencing and the Electronic Visualization Laboratory’s cyber-commons to teach his students back in Chicago.
He’s on a UIC team working with the Compact Muon Solenoid detector, which recorded debris from the first protons that smashed into each other at record-high energy levels set by the collider.
“We’re asking simple questions like, how many particles are actually created and where do they go? That’s what I’ve been thinking about and working on the last four or five years,” he says.
“I do love physics, and I do love it when somebody else sees something and it clicks. That’s a wonderful thing.”
Clinical instructor of biobehavioral health science
Years at UIC: 5
Maripat King has seen some changes over the last few years, but one thing remains constant: her students’ enthusiasm for learning.
King teaches pathophysiology, fundamentals of nursing and medical/surgical nursing. She also arranges clinical rotations, teaching students in the hospital.
“It’s different from when the students are in class, where they just memorize facts,” says King, a registered nurse for 25 years.
“In the hospital, they get to see the entire process. It makes everything we talk about in class that much clearer.”
King is always developing new ways to teach. Two years ago she began using simulation technology with a full-body interactive patient simulator, computerized scenario-based programs and individual trainers to teach specific skills like starting IVs.
The simulators prepare students before they begin real-life patient care, King says.
“The students really enjoy it. They are so excited to learn as they go through the program.”
King received an undergraduate degree in elementary education from the Urbana-Champaign campus and taught elementary school for five years before she left to start a family. At home raising her three children, King decided to switch careers to nursing.
This is King’s second Silver Circle Award she won the first in 2007 after teaching for only two years.
Winning the award for the second time is just as rewarding as the first, she says.
“I’m more comfortable teaching now. The students are more active participants,” she says.
“The students who enroll in the nursing program are a special breed. My job is to help them become the nurses they want to be.”
Lecturer of managerial studies
Years at UIC: 12
William Kohler has the “write stuff.”
“My business career has given me conviction and an evangelical zeal to motivate my students to write well; to write precisely,” he says.
Kohler’s long career of business and teaching has taken him around the world, from Silicon Valley to Japan and Russia.
Growing up in Mexico City, Kohler developed a love of language and writing that anchored his career in business. Promotions took him around the country until he landed in Chicago.
After 25 years in sales, Kohler made the change to Arthur Andersen Worldwide, where he taught business English to middle managers and embarked on a master’s degree in applied linguistics at UIC.
Better pedagogy is a major focus of his research.
“Two areas intrigue me: the first, to teach business writing skills more effectively. Second is the recent rise of social media in expanding a business market. It may transform the way companies find prospects.”
Kohler and his wife, Sharon, live in Marie Robinson Hall through the Faculty in Residence program “one of the most enriching experiences I’ve had,” he says.
He’s one of nine faculty members who live with their families in UIC residence halls, where they socialize and interact with students. He received Campus Housing’s Faculty-in-Residence of the Year Award for 2008-09.
Kohler describes his teaching style as “transparent” “delivering an idea so the student can see its application and value in their future,” he says.
To add to that value, at the end of the semester he bakes 25 dozen of his “ultimate” chocolate-chip cookies for his BA 200 class.
“When students enter the job market, they will experience an epiphany,” he says. “They will see that their own value as an employee is directly tied to their ability to express themselves well orally and in writing.
“Abraham Lincoln said it best: ‘It’s no use being brilliant if you can’t communicate with your client.’"
Associate professor of Slavic and Baltic languages and literatures
Liberal Arts and Sciences
Years at UIC: 31
It’s said that practice makes perfect, but Alex Kurczaba doesn’t agree.
“The more I teach, the more I realize the shortcomings, the imperfections,” he says.
But Kurczaba is obviously doing something right. This is his fourth Silver Circle he also won the award in 1997, 2002 and 2006, more than any other faculty member this year.
Naturally he’s pleased, but he added, “I think, speaking for my colleagues, that no one is out there gunning to get a teaching award.”
While he values student feedback “teaching is dialogue, and you need to gauge whether you’re on the same page with your students” Kurczaba prefers lectures over the “so-called” discussion format.
“The instructor has more control over the material,” he says.
“And I have the conviction, for better or worse, that the person at the front of the room knows more than the students. The instructor shares his or her knowledge with the students.”
For Kurczaba, the most difficult part of teaching is judging student performance.
“No one has figured out the fairest way of grading or evaluating students’ work, and it doesn’t get any easier with time.”
Kurczaba enjoys downhill skiing and cycling, racquetball (when he can find a partner) and the underappreciated art of poetry.
“Poetry came first, novels are the outgrowth,” he says. “It all goes back to The Iliad and The Odyssey and Homer.”
Kurczaba, whose teaching focuses on Polish culture in its European context, is Polish on both sides; Polish is his first language.
“But I am an all-American product of an all-American system,” he says.
“A system that is at the top in terms of what it offers.”
Research associate professor of mechanical and industrial engineering
Years at UIC: 11
Finding Saeed Manafzadeh’s office is easy. It’s the first one on the left, and his door is usually open.
“I make it a point to let students know that ‘office hours’ are when I must be in my office to help them,” he says, adding he regards students as “the most important component of the university.”
“I feel a responsibility to help them with their courses and other academic problems during and out of office hours, whether or not a problem is related to a course I’m teaching.”
As director of undergraduate studies for mechanical and industrial engineering, Manafzadeh knows the value of having a faculty member available to provide useful and friendly advice.
He once was a UIC student too, earning his Ph.D. here in what was the energy engineering department. His adviser was the late Harold Simon, one of the college’s most respected instructors.
After completing his degree and post-doctoral research, Manafzadeh returned to his native Iran to become a professor at the Sharif University of Technology in Tehran, the country’s top technical school. He returned to UIC in 1999.
While he mixes humor, everyday examples and suggested simple experiments that students can do on their own, he credits Simon for helping make him an excellent teacher.
“He basically prepared me for teaching,” says Manafzadeh, who won college teaching awards in 2006 and 2008.
Manafzadeh created an end-of-program seminar for undergraduates to get qualitative feedback on their college experience.
The seminar so impressed the accrediting American Board of Engineering Technology that similar courses are being set up for all UIC engineering departments.
“I love teaching. I don’t think I could do anything else,” he says.
Assistant professor of educational policy studies
Years at UIC: 4
Having taught at every level from second grade through graduate school, Christopher Miller is thanking a big crowd when he says, “My students taught me to teach.”
Miller, who earned a Ph.D. in educational leadership at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 2005, didn’t study education before launching his teaching career 30 years ago.
As a new graduate of the University of Chicago with a degree in botany, he was visiting Houston during a teacher shortage and seized the opportunity.
He was assigned to a rough city high school where the priority was to “control and sort,” he says.
“I was the only male teacher not to use a paddle. The police wouldn’t even come to the campus. I lasted one year.”
He went on to teach at a “hippie, trippy” private school in Poughkeepsie, N.Y. Later he taught special education and science in northeastern Vermont, where he was school board superintendent in a district of four one-room schools.
Between teaching jobs, he returned to his scientific roots to research acid rain at the University of Vermont.
“With so many different situations, you have to figure out where you are and what the students need,” he says.
“I’m a scientist, so I’m an observer. I analyze the students, the community and the administrators, and I ask, ‘How far can I take them? What do they want to learn about?’”
All these experiences inform his work at UIC, where he teaches research methods and the politics of education to undergraduates, and social foundation courses to graduate students.
He advocates content-specific departments and a return to the arts and science curriculum that was set aside for math and reading under No Child Left Behind.
Miller challenges education students by presenting alternative and provocative ways of thinking like asking whether dog-fighting should replace football as a high-school sport, since they’re equally violent, as suggested in a recent New Yorker article.
“If my students don’t think I’m nuts, I’m probably propagandizing them,” he says. “I let them know they can fight back.
“We have wonderful students at UIC. They’re diverse, soulful, and they bring all kinds of things to the classroom. I look forward to every class I teach.”
Anne Brooks Ranallo
Lecturer in chemistry
Liberal Arts and Sciences
Years at UIC: 9 (including 3 years as post-doctoral researcher)
Chemistry lecturer Neil Miranda began his career as a researcher but discovered that being in the classroom, rather than the lab, was the best fit.
“I love teaching. That’s what I’ve always wanted to do,” says Miranda, who wins his second Silver Circle this year.
“I’ve been blessed with a job that I really want.”
Miranda teaches the two-course organic chemistry sequence, required for students headed for health-care careers.
They don’t just need to pass these courses they must understand and remember the material.
“I really emphasize the fundamentals,” Miranda says. “I make things very clear, keep it very simple.
“My teaching style is actually quite primitive. I prefer to write everything down as opposed to putting up things on PowerPoint. I believe this is an effective way to teach and learn organic chemistry, just like math.”
Miranda is old school in another way, as well. Aside from occasional bits of information he puts online, students must attend class to learn the material.
“I think that’s a reason I have almost a full class when I lecture,” he says.
Miranda occasionally teaches basic freshman-level chemistry courses, including one for pre-nursing students.
“They were a joy to work with. They had so much interest and put in so much effort,” he says. “The lower the course level, the more careful you have to be about how you teach.
“You have to make things interesting. You have to make sure they get it.”
Lecturer in psychology
Liberal Arts and Sciences
Years at UIC: 15
Ronald Pavone remembers the meaningful teachers he’s had, from grade school through graduate school.
By personalizing their lessons and giving students individual attention, they left their mark. And so he tries to do the same for the UIC students he teaches.
“I’ve been fortunate enough to have some very dedicated teachers who have meant a lot,” says Pavone, who receives his second Silver Circle this year.
“They spent time with us on a one-on-one basis to inspire us to work toward solid learning and challenges, and to teach us to overcome difficulties we were having. They went out of their way to bring the material to life in personal ways.”
To make coursework individualized when teaching large classes like Psychology 100, Pavone asks his students to discuss personal examples related to course concepts.
“I ask people what goes into the making of the ways that they themselves behave, think and feel,” he says. “I also ask them what may be causing what other important people in their lives think and feel.”
As students advance in their coursework, Pavone asks them to delve more deeply into potential future discoveries in the field of psychology.
“Students have said that they gain by considering potential psychological horizons yet to be understood, and by developing their own logical and creative problem-solving skills to progress toward such goals.”
Pavone uses visual elements and hands-on learning to engage his students, such as a model scale he developed to demonstrate the validity of “the mean” in statistics and research.
He meets with each student in his statistics courses at least once a semester “to build in some time when we have opportunities to talk individually,” he says.
“Our students here are great, and if I can make a difference in a student’s educational experience here at UIC, then I feel I’ve done a good job.”
Clinical assistant professor of health information management
Applied Health Sciences
Years at UIC: 2
While Valerie Prater worked for years in health information management and marketing jobs before she entered teaching full-time, she hardly comes into the job without experience.
“I’d done adjunct teaching for about 14 years,” she says.
“I found I was carving out time for teaching on the side, or finding positions with teaching as part of the job.”
Prater was often the “go to” person to organize teaching conferences or training sessions.
So although her degrees are in business, not education, when she heard of an opening at UIC she saw it as a good career move.
“I was at a point of my life where I wanted to do full-time education,” she says.
With the government promoting electronic record-keeping as a way to contain health care costs and improve patient care, health information science courses are in great demand.
But it’s an evolving field, so Prater and her colleagues must constantly keep up with new developments.
“One of the rewarding things about teaching is, we learn while we’re teaching,” says Prater, who was the college’s Biomedical and Health Information Sciences Educator of the Year for 2009.
“Our professional association requires us as credentialed professionals to maintain a certain number of continuing education credits, and if you care about your field, you’re going to do that anyway. That keeps us on our toes.”
One of the things that attracted Prater to UIC was the revised blended format of coursework her department began this year.
Courses are half classroom, half online, and eight weeks long versus the traditional 16 weeks. It’s intense, fast-paced and well-suited to technology-oriented students who often have tight schedules.
She draws on her considerable business experience to give students a real-world perspective.
“We have to think about what the student needs to know to get that great job,” she says.
“What knowledge will they need in the field? How are they going to use it? Not just what they need to pass their next test, but how we can best prepare them for professional certification?
Associate professor of English
Liberal Arts and Sciences
Years at UIC: 17
Terence Whalen works to build confidence in his students as they confront the complicated issues in works of 19th century American literature by Edgar Allan Poe, Herman Melville and Nathaniel Hawthorne.
“At first they may see these texts as rarified, special and beyond their comfort zone, but after a while they adapt,” he says.
“It’s exciting to see them feel more confident speaking about issues they may never hear their friends talk about.”
For greater understanding and familiarity, Whalen insists students take ownership of the material. This includes reading poetry to someone outside class.
“I do a body count to see if anyone has died because they tried it. I haven’t lost anybody yet,” he jokes.
“Over time, I’ve placed more of an emphasis on the role that they play in creating a work of literature and breathing life into a work of literature.
“If they don’t do that, it doesn’t live. It’s just dead on the page.”
As a student, Whalen chose courses based on who was teaching, rather than the course itself.
“I wasn’t doing that to learn from good teachers so I could be a good teacher myself,” he explains. “It was more about who really stimulates one’s curiosity, who raises interesting questions, who finds surprising, startling, outrageous connections between what we are reading and other parts of life.”
What he learned from those instructors has benefited him in ways he never anticipated as a student.
“That has helped me understand not to underestimate the importance of what happens in the classroom, because the effect may not be discernable until years and years later,” he says.
Coaching his children’s soccer team also taught him several useful lessons for teaching:
• “You can’t and shouldn’t control everything.”
• “It’s useful to offer at least as much encouragement and praise as constructive criticism.”
• “The experience of challenging yourself and trying something that doesn’t come naturally will be useful down the road.”
Below: 2010 Silver Circle Winners Saeed Manafzadeh, Christopher Miller, Neil Miranda, Terence Whelan, Valerie Prater and Ronald Pavone.
Photo: Kathryn Marchetti