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2012 Silver Circle Awards

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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. But what makes the award especially meaningful is its selection committee: the graduating seniors.

Here are the 2012 winners:

Mary Louise Bareither
Clinical professor, kinesiology and nutrition
College of Applied Health Sciences

Mary Lou Bareither has a passion for anatomy that led to a job as a research technician in the College of Medicine after she finished her degree in biological sciences at UIC.

"I just loved the research they were doing," she recalls. "I always found the endocrine system, which works with the reproductive system, very interesting."

Her interest led to a Ph.D. and a subsequent career that emphasized research over teaching. But she put full-time work on hold to raise four children while teaching occasionally at different schools.

"Doing research part time is challenging. Teaching worked well as a part-time career," she says.

When Bareither returned to work full time, she resumed research but found instruction more to her liking, becoming program director in kinesiology.

"I really liked working with students not only in the classroom, but in a bigger venue to make sure they got through their curriculum well,” she says.

Bareither teaches dissection and the large anatomy and physiology class sequence that bridges the fall and spring semesters.

"They find anatomy particularly fascinating because the lab associated with my class is an undergraduate human cadaver class — which is not common in a lot of universities. UIC gives undergraduates this great opportunity," she says. 

Most of Bareither's students plan health-related careers, where knowledge of human anatomy and physiology is essential.

"I try to make it real to them, because then they remember it," she says.

Bareither developed a for-credit practicum in undergraduate teaching that lets students who’ve successfully completed the anatomy and physiology sequence become laboratory teaching assistants. It works because to teach, you must really know the subject, she says.

Students tell Bareither this experience puts them at the top of their med school anatomy classes."They also learn to work with their peers," Bareither says. "Many say they're shy in the beginning, but this really builds self-confidence." 
Vahe Caliskan
Lecturer in electrical and computer engineering
College of Engineering

Vahe Caliskan tells his students to call him by his first name. 

Caliskan, a former electrical engineer with Motorola Automotive, prepares his courses from a student's perspective, with a dash of teacher's wisdom.

"I come up with new stuff each term. I'm not static, it's not like a re-run," he says. 

"Believe me, if you bore yourself with the same material each term, I guarantee you that you'll bore the students."

Caliskan earned his bachelor's and master's degrees in electrical engineering from UIC, then a Ph.D. from Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

"I've had 14 years of college so I've taken a lot of courses. I think from both the teacher and student sides. If you don't, you quickly lose touch."

Caliskan knew he had a knack for teaching while working at Motorola as a senior technical expert — the troubleshooter who worked with different teams when they got stuck on a problem. 

"I had no trouble working with other people and explaining how to do things. When people had problems, they found me," he says.

He decided to change his career path, taking a position at UIC. He teaches three courses every fall and spring, some so popular that he has to request a larger classroom. Caliskan plans his lectures with problem-solving in mind.

"I have a passion for this," he says.  "I want students to learn how to think and apply the fundamentals, not just memorize things. Memorization is mostly useless for engineering." 

Charles Daas
Adjunct lecturer in urban planning and policy
College of Urban Planning and Public Affairs

Charles Daas says he's a born teacher, much like his father, mother, grandfather and sister.

He's also a born storyteller, which is why students to approach him after class to say, "I want to know more about …"

Daas says “Planning Great Cities,” one of the classes he teaches, is about "what great cities are." His required class for majors, “Introduction to Urban Planning,” covers "what planners do."

Every year, two or three students in tell him they've decided to major or minor in the field, he says.

Daas, a planning consultant to nonprofits, assigns students to learn from practitioners, then get their feet wet in real planning.

"'Planning borrows theory from all the social sciences. I have to make it all accessible," Daas says. "So I bring in people who are doing it."

His class visited Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architecture to see the design of a new community in China. They heard the head of bicycle planning in Portland, Ore., talk about building a bike infrastructure and educating people to see bikes as transportation, not toys. They listened to the mayor of Normal describe his model project with Mitsubishi to sell 1,000 electric cars to residents and build charging stations around the town.

"The one who set the tone was Kim Jackson from the Lawndale Christian Development Corp.," Daas says.

Jackson asked the class to help plan the use of vacant lots surrounding the Martin Luther King Legacy Apartments. Daas sent the students to talk to residents, who said they wanted grocery stores, a laundromat and a park where they could take their children.

"The students used the census, GIS, researched other low-income communities, and presented a site design to the community leadership," Daas recalls.

"An older resident said, 'I was a little girl when Martin Luther King lived here, and I've never imagined 16th Street any differently until now.'"

The payoff?  "The community is just about to break ground on that park," he says with a smile.

"I tell students, go out and take the temperature. Like Jane Jacobs said, 'Understand the street system.' That's what brings it alive for people."

Randall Espinoza
Lecturer in physics
College of Liberal Arts and Sciences

"I like the feeling of making something that's hard understandable," says physics lecturer Randall Espinoza.

Espinoza taught physics at the Universidad de Costa Rica before coming to UIC to earn his Ph.D. He also tutored and helped friends with their coursework.

"I think I have a nice way of explaining things that are complicated," he says.

Espinoza teaches one or the other of two dual sequence beginning physics courses — one for engineering students, the other for everyone else. 

He likes the engineering sequence because he has more time to explain concepts, but with the big introductory courses, he enjoys the questions he gets.

"Those students are engaged a lot more, but I often can't talk a lot because there's so much material to cover," he says.

Espinoza tries to put himself in the student's seat when preparing a lecture.

"If I introduce a concept like an electric field, I think, what's the first thing that would confuse a student? So I start with the basics. 

“But that's usually not the way it's taught. Most start with a complicated problem. I do it the other way. I start with simple questions, then students get it, and I build from there."

Espinoza finds students learn better if he can present material visually, instead of mathematically.

"I always hated problems that looked extremely complicated for no reason. It's like it was complication for the sake of complication," he says.

"Physics shouldn't be scary," he says. "It's not. It can be a lot of fun."

Dianna Frid
Assistant professor of studio arts
School of Art and Design

Dianna Frid refers to two aphorisms to guide her teaching and her own practice of art.

The first is, “Art is what makes life more interesting than art,” according to Robert Filliou, a French artist who was active in Fluxus, an international network of avant-garde multimedia artists.

The second is T.S. Eliot’s reflection that "Genuine poetry can communicate before it is understood." 

Frid notes that the same can be said for all art.

These and other literary texts help students think abstractly, she says, pointing out that no two people interpret a reading or assignment the same way.

"Students and I investigate these maxims textually, but above all through the exploratory practice of making things: drawings, paintings, sculptures, photographs or moving images and sound works," Frid says.

"Art viewing, and certainly art making, inform our intellects and our senses. Students discover that art encompasses the political and the personal."

Frid notes that the process of "paying attention and living analytically" makes people feel vulnerable, but is critical to art.

"Being in the midst of life without paying attention to its intricacies and subtleties is, in my view, a form of disengagement and potential alienation, and art teaches us to be engaged through our senses and our intellect," she says.

She asks her students "to get lost in the big, uncertain art field — to get uncomfortable, even. After all, an effort must be made to learn to uncover the meaning of something."

Frid was drawn to art as a child, exploring the Museum of Anthropology in Mexico City, particularly the symbolism-laden embroideries and weavings. She later studied anthropology, but switched to the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.

She eventually began exhibiting her art in New York while working at an "unfulfilling" ad agency job that convinced her to return to school for a master's degree in fibers and material studies.

She began teaching through a fellowship at the University of Chicago.

"Very few of my students were actually art majors, so the job taught me how to be an advocate for the arts and present it as a tool of inquiry. I still do that," Frid says.

"I still learn on the job. Each group of students has a slightly different dynamic feel, and I cannot assume that I have it all figured out.

“One of the things that I have learned most is the importance of listening to students."

Mustapha Kamal
Clinical assistant professor of Arabic
College of Liberal Arts and Sciences

Can a language unite? Mustapha Kamal believes so.

Most of his students are Arab or Muslim, but he teaches them Modern Standard Arabic, rather than the language they speak at home.

"There are a lot of regional dialects from areas like North Africa, Greater Syria, Gulf States and Egypt. These regions don't always understand each other. It's not just the translation, but the vocabulary and sentence structure are different.

"What unites all of these people is the Arabic you study at school. That is the language that is used in the news," Kamal says.

"It's the language of literature, theater, and poetry. If you know this language, you can go anywhere and communicate with educated people.'

Born and raised in Morocco, Kamal was influenced by the stern teaching methods he experienced as a student.

"We were always scared of the professor. I swore to myself to never be like that if I became a teacher," he says.

"I'm strict when it comes to teaching and to covering the syllabus and curriculum," but he balances the firm classroom approach with humorous student rapport, he says.

Earlier this semester, students turned the tables on Kamal with a video project that poked fun at his teaching.

"It was funny. I asked them to do another one, but in very good Arabic. This last one had some serious mistakes," he laughs.

Kamal, who earned a Ph.D. in comparative literature at the University of California at Berkeley, has research interests in Arabic literature, Arab intellectual history and the literary history of medieval Iberia.

After four years at the University of Chicago, he came to UIC in 2002.

"I like the atmosphere here. I have a lot of freedom to implement my ideas and to have feedback from students," he says.

"I don't feel that I'm constrained by bureaucracy. Maybe it's because I'm the only one teaching Arabic."

Maripat King
Clinical instructor of biobehavioral health science
College of Nursing

Maripat King combined her two loves — teaching and nursing — into one job.

As an acute care nurse practitioner in biobehavioral health science, King teaches pathophysiology, fundamentals of nursing and medical/surgical nursing.

Classroom instruction is important, but what really excites her and her students is using their newfound knowledge with patients at the University of Illinois Hospital, she says.

 “It’s different when the students are in class, where they just memorize facts,” King says.

“In the hospital, they get to assist treating patients and they see the entire process. It makes everything we talk about in class that much clearer.”

King is always finding new ways to teach her students. This year she is using a pilot program at the hospital that provides a broader and more focused experience for students pursuing their bachelor of science degree.

Traditionally, groups of up to eight students are supervised by a registered nurse as they learn to perform various medical procedures with actual patients. In the new program, 16 students are divided evenly into four groups that rotate through four hospital units.

 “The students love it,” King says. “Because the groups are smaller, the students are learning more and they really get to see how everything comes together. We have a great hospital with medical professionals who have lots of experience, and it’s a good way to join the two.”

As a child, King suffered from a heart malady that was eventually diagnosed as Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome, a condition that causes rapid heartbeat. She spent a lot of time in waiting rooms, passing the time by looking through medical books doctors lent her.

King was intrigued by science and medicine, but decided to pursue a degree in elementary education at the Urbana-Champaign campus. After five years in the classroom, she and her husband decided to start a family. She left her kids in the classroom for three of her own, but kept harkening back to her childhood in the hospital and eventually decided it was a good time to return to college to become a nurse.

While she has only been a nurse educator at UIC for seven years, this is King’s third Silver Circle teaching award.

She says her reward is seeing her students enter a hospital room, confident that they can perform the procedures that will make the patient better.

Robert Paul Malchow
Associate professor of biological sciences
College of Liberal Arts and Sciences

Each fall and spring, Paul Malchow teaches BIOS 100 — Biology of Cells and Organisms — to lecture halls of up to 500 students who reflect the ethnic, cultural and intellectual diversity that's a hallmark of UIC.

They take the course for a variety of reasons, which makes finding the "sweet spot" for lectures a challenge. 

Malchow will do whatever it takes to get his points across, even if it means a bit of performance art.

"There's a section where I talk about ATP, an energy-rich molecule that provides the power for a lot of physiological processes," he says. "I'll show students a picture, tell them that ATP binds to a molecule, transfers its phosphate group, changes the molecule's shape and now has energetic capability to do something. But that only goes so far. Most students are less than impressed."

So Malchow's son Will, 25, comes to class wearing a judo gi. Malchow demonstrates a quick flip of his strong young son, relating the judo moves to the power and changing characteristics of the ATP molecule.

"It's kinda fun," Malchow says.  "Some students recorded a video using their iPhones, then put it up on the BIOS 100 Facebook page."

Malchow makes sure he's available to students with questions. He holds some of his office hours outside the science labs, this semester spending an hour on Wednesdays at the Asian American Resources and Cultural Center. He previously held office hours at the African American and Latino cultural centers, and next semester he’ll be at the Commuter Student Resource Center.

"I try to make my office hours less imposing by having them in a sort of 'neutral' setting," he says.

Malchow urges students to meet with their professors for help, and stick around until their questions are fully answered.  He says this not only benefits the student, but the professor.

"Student conversations are so important.  You find out after a lecture that what made sense to me, the student didn't figure out because I didn't mention one thing I assumed they knew," he says. 

"You build on that.  It illuminates for me what I can do better."

Mary Murphy
Assistant professor of psychology
College of Liberal Arts and Sciences

Teaching is in Mary Murphy's blood. The social psychologist's grandfather, grandmother, mother and aunt were educators.

"Growing up, I've always thought of myself as someone who could get in front of students and really help them to learn," says the first-time Silver Circle winner.

Murphy's teaching style, based on her own research, applies a malleable theory of intelligence that pushes students to break out of the fixed mentality about their skills that causes them to withdraw effort in the face of difficulties.

"You are going to come up against challenges in this class and in your whole college experience," she tells her students.

"The way you think about and handle those situations is going to be meaningful."

Employing social psychology for the greater good, and understanding how context influences behavior, are some key lessons students take away from her courses.

"Using it for good is being more empathetic to the way that people attribute behavior and considering explanations of behavior that acknowledge the situation and not just the person," Murphy explains.

"When someone makes a mistake, look at the situation and see how that might be influencing them, rather than assuming they are not competent, or bad in some way."

As a teacher, she's more likely to attribute a student's poor performance on one exam to situational factors. 

"While I don't excuse the poor performance or make exceptions, I am more likely to encourage them to try harder and put more effort in because I believe in students' abilities to grow and develop."

Outside the classroom, she applies her professional expertise on interracial friendships and interactions as a member of the psychology department's diversity advancement committee.

"In line with my research, it's focused on the idea of trying to leverage diversity in way that benefits everybody and contributes positively to everybody's experience."

UIC's multicultural student population and Chicago's culture and dining make the university an attractive place to teach, says the San Antonio, Texas, native.

"It's been fantastic to come here," says Murphy, who joined UIC in 2009.

"As a faculty member who studies issues of diversity, you can't get any better than Chicago and UIC."

Gary Noll
Lecturer in psychology
College of Liberal Arts and Sciences

Psychologist Gary Noll has three Silver Circle Awards and a self-deprecating sense of humor.

"Sometimes I think, 'Well, I fooled them again,'" he jokingly says of the teaching honor.

"I feel fulfilled. It is nice to have people say, 'Good job.'"

Noll, who has taught at UIC since 2000, believes personalization is important in relating to students.

"I always talk to students before the class starts. I try to keep track of things that they said so that I can make it clear that I know something is going on, such as an illness in the family," he explains.

"I try to talk to those students that I've made some connection with during the lecture."

With more than 150 students enrolled in courses such as developmental and community psychology, he admits teaching can be a challenge.

"I try to be myself in front of the students. I'm funny and that helps. I'd like everyone to love me, but I realized a long time ago if I try to please everybody, I'm not going to please anybody," he explains.

"I try to let them know the stuff we're talking about is the most interesting stuff in the world. For goodness sake, it's about you! What could be more interesting than that?"

Noll enjoys the mentoring aspect of teaching that offers opportunities to help students with questions about coursework or careers.

"What I love is watching the ones who come here not too sure why they are in college and watch the maturation occur," says Noll, former director of the DuPage County Health Department's mental health division.

"To be able to work with those people and help their careers move forward gives me goose bumps."

Michael Popowits
Lecturer in accounting
College of Business Administration

There was a time when Michael Popowits dreamed of becoming a marine biologist, but he had a change of heart in college.

"My sophomore year, I took a course on marine algae and found out that I hated lab work,” he says.

He got a bachelor’s in biology at the Urbana-Champaign campus, then spent a year “in a bout of 'what-do-I want-to be-when-I-grow-up-angst,'" he says.

"I took a course in accounting just to find out what in the world my business major friends were complaining about and I found I had an aptitude for it. I completed a master's in accounting with a concentration in information systems."

It took Popowits a few years to figure out that he had the "teaching gene."

"By my late 20s I had taught English in Austria, been an auditor and systems consultant and worked in improvisational theater. It was the teaching or teaching aspects of all of those jobs that I liked the most, " he says.

Since he joined UIC in 1988, he's developed and taught undergraduate and graduate courses in accounting information systems, databases, fraud examination and professional presence — a training course in interviewing, networking and client interactions.

He was an auditor for Laventhol & Horwath in Chicago and a consultant in the corporate world, including a management team trainer and executive coach.

In his profession, Popowits says, it is hard not to get "mired in technical detail."

"I always say 'nurture your inner geek, but have more to your personality than that.' Students must master the details of accounting and software, but use these tools to serve a wider purpose. 

“That's why I like the subject of fraud detection and prevention — how we use forensic accounting to protect organizations and society. Fraud makes accounting sexy, because we get to use our geeky left-brained analytical skills to catch bad guys, just like on TV. That's fun!"

Mimi Rosenbush
Senior lecturer in English
College of Liberal Arts and Sciences

The energy and pace of working in film and television translates well to teaching, says Mimi Rosenbush.

"It's about being organized, but also being able to turn on a certain amount of energy to approach that load of work and not get buried under it," says Rosenbush, former member of Oprah Winfrey's Book Club production team.

She credits her experience at Harpo Studios, Steven Spielberg's Shoah Foundation, and as a freelance filmmaker and writer, for providing her with the tools and awareness to connect with the audience at UIC — her students.

"When you work in film or as an editor developing narratives for documentaries, you think about who is receiving this information," she explains.

"I don't see it as show, but seeing students as people who are receiving knowledge that you are sharing."

Rosenbush, who graduated from the Urbana-Champaign campus with a bachelor's degree in English, is an avid reader who made a career switch 10 years ago to pursue a graduate degree at Northeastern Illinois University and eventually teach at a university.

Since joining UIC in 2004, she has taught courses on composition and grammar and served as a study skills and writing mentor for Project Chance students.

While academic writing may intimidate freshmen, Rosenbush considers it a "thrill" to see her students evolve as they learn to read and write analytically.

"I want to help demystify the university for them and to break down barriers. I like to talk to students about their home languages and dialects and about how different situations call for different versions of English,” she says.

In Rosenbush's composition classes, students must complete a major research project on Chicago history.

"At UIC, I can work in a university and teach about things I love: grammar, writing, and Chicago. Every time I read a student paper I learn something I didn't know before," she says.

"To work in a place dedicated to learning is both fulfilling and exciting."

Theresa Thorkildsen
Professor of educational psychology
College of Education

Terri Thorkildsen defines herself as a psychologist, methodologist and research professor who teaches students how to do research.

Despite her Silver Circle and a previous Award for Excellence in Teaching, she doesn't think of herself primarily as a teacher.

"I'm very much a straight psychologist," Thorkildsen says. "In education, I want people to relentlessly think from the perspective of the learner, from a developmental lens.

"Learning is a lifelong process. What and how we learn changes over life. I see myself as a lifelong learner, and I see teacher candidates as lifelong learners."

Thorkildsen, who joined UIC 20 years ago, has been teaching early adolescent development for about 10 years. Her class, required for teacher certification, equips educators to keep students in school after age 15.  She's found that the class works well for both graduates and undergraduates, despite its difficulty.

"I think undergraduates read with great rigor. Graduates have more life experience in evaluating research questions," she says. "Their conversations change everyone's perspective."

Thorkildsen's graduate students praise her for avoiding a pitfall faced by many school teachers: she never teaches to the test, in this case, the state standards for teacher certification.

Instead, she reminds her students that it really does take a village — that K-12 students learn not only from their schools, but from themselves and their families, peers, religions, communities and the civic sphere.

"Look at the whole person and all contexts," she advises.

Another technique Thorkildsen's students appreciate: she divides a large class into small working groups according to their interests, needs and backgrounds, with a mix of personalities, ethnicities and gender so they can share perspectives.

"I use UIC's diversity model," she says. "Each person is individually accountable, but they work in a group structure, and they become lifelong friends."

Thorkildsen's research focuses on personal responsibility — how teachers see their responsibility in issues of motivation, justice and fairness, and how learners take responsibility for learning.

"From a civic engineering lens, how do teachers participate?" Thorkildsen asks. "What's an ideal school? What are the teachers' life goals and their readiness to act on them?"

— Jeffron Boynés, Brian Flood, Paul Francuch, Sam Hostettler, Anne Brooks Ranallo

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