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Top teachers: 2000 Silver Circle Awards

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Each year, graduating seniors select 11 professors to receive the Silver Circle Teaching Awards, presented at commencement.

Clinical assistant professor of psychology
Liberal Arts and Sciences
COURSES: Undergraduate courses in abnormal psychology, interviewing, interventions/behavior changes, testing, personality and introduction to psychology. Graduate courses in interviewing, therapy, testing, sports psychology and exercise psychology. She also supervises students' clinical work.

Gloria Balague is a sports psychologist with an international reputation, but "it would be hard to teach at another place," she said.

"It's the diversity of UIC students -- their variety of backgrounds, experiences, perspectives -- I have the United Nations in class and I love that."

She received her Ph.D. at UIC in 1987, then became a psychologist at Cook County Hospital. In 1992 she began teaching full time at UIC.

"Teaching is not a side job for me," said Balague. "My classes benefit from my clinical contact. I bring my experience to class, which makes topics more alive to students. Students appreciate that I can describe real people with the problems being discussed in the classroom."

Balague, sports psychologist for the 1993 Olympics U.S. track and field team and the 1996 Olympics gymnastics team, is one of the few women in the field at her level.

Her work as sports psychologist for the UIC baseball team is more fun, though.

"Being a sports psychologist for the Olympic Games is very intense," said Balague. "There is so much at stake for those athletes. My role is to keep the pressure on them manageable, which ends up being very stressful on me. But I loved having done it."Balague will be the keynote speaker at the September Pre-Olympic Congress for the International Congress on Sports Science in Brisbane, Australia.

"This year, however, I'll return to watch the games at home," she said with a smile.

Lecturer in finance
Business Administration
COURSES: Principles of finance; senior seminar in finance
OTHER AWARDS: 1997 Silver Circle Award
Other interests: co-chair, Chancellor's Committee on the Status of Persons With Disabilities; faculty adviser, Finance Club; member, Council for Excellence in Teaching and Learning; board member, UIC Scholarship Association; chairperson, UIC Scholarship Association Finance Committee

Some people choose a career in finance to become wealthy. Mary R. Brown went into finance for another reason -- she wanted to teach it.

"One of the reasons I chose to teach finance was because it was one area where you don't see African-American women," recalled Brown. "I'd like to think of myself as a bit of a pioneer."

Teaching a big lecture course like Principles of Finance is kind of like being on the Oprah Winfrey Show, Brown said jokingly.

"Sometimes I have to wear a microphone. Because of a hearing impairment, I occasionally go out into class if I can't hear a question, so there's a lot of interaction taking place," she explained.

"I'm also not a bad comedian. That gets the students' attention and keeps the atmosphere relaxed."

Brown believes her introductory finance course gives students a broad knowledge-base that prepares them to be successful.

"With such a tremendous interest in the markets right now, the first thing I teach students is how to read stock and bond quotes in the papers. I also recently introduced discussions on day-trading," she said.

While Brown has found her niche in teaching, she believes she has unfinished business.

"I want people to know that persons with disabilities can contribute to the world," she said.

Associate professor of biological sciences
Liberal Arts and Sciences
COURSES: history of life, ecological modeling, population ecology, biology colloquium, introduction to research, biology of populations and communities
OTHER AWARDS: 1994 Excellence in Teaching Award

Good teaching contains elements of game-playing, the same as research, says biologist Joel Brown.

"The fun part of teaching is taking students to a place where they're marginally interested and then exciting them with something bizarre," he said.

"Teaching has always been very satisfying to me, and I've always interacted positively with the students."

It is the "immense satisfaction of having made an impact" that inspires him to be the best teacher he can, says Brown, who studies the urban ecology of squirrels.

Wendy Jackson, a visiting professor who has co-taught classes with Brown, describes him as creative and motivating.

"He makes students understand underlying concepts," she said. "He is in the perfect job for him."

Brown teaches both graduate and undergraduate courses, including an introductory biology class.

"He is able to draw on examples," Jackson said. "He's a great teacher."

Lecturer in electrical engineering and computer science
YEARS AT UIC: 16. He also received his undergraduate degree at UIC
COURSES: communication engineering, assembly language programming, radio communication circuits
OTHER AWARDS: 1988 Silver Circle; first recipient of the College of Engineering Harold Simon Award, 1985. Honors College fellow, 1986-1988

Fresh from graduate school, Ph.D. in hand, Vladimir ("Wally") Goncharoff began teaching at UIC without any apprenticeship or ever having been a TA.

"All my training as a teacher has been on the job," Goncharoff said. "I found my niche, and that was teaching. As time goes on, I enjoy it more and more."

Goncharoff said he grows more confident each time he teaches a course, not only because he's better practiced as a teacher, but because he learns more about the material.

"It's a real sense of accomplishment to be able to help others learn," said Goncharoff. "Students give me great positive feedback; they're my reason for continuing because it's a tough job."

The key to being a good teacher, Goncharoff believes, rests in the ability to "attain the highest quality learning experience for the students. That's the ultimate goal. And we're not really graded on that."

Although he says teaching is very time consuming and even physically demanding, he says the opportunity to work with UIC students makes it worthwhile.

"I enjoy the cross-section of society we have here at UIC," he said. "It's a group of people eager to learn. Perhaps they're the first in their family to have the opportunity to study, so that puts an added urgency on their quest. It's really a fun bunch of students."

Associate professor of English
Liberal Arts and Sciences
COURSES: Introduction to Old English, Beowulf, history of the English language, history of English literature, medieval English poetry, history of rhetoric

Thomas Hall said his students call his teaching style "relaxed," which makes it easier to explain the intricacies of medieval literature.

"I try to ensure the courses provide for a positive experience for students," he said. "I try to be friendly and supportive."

Hall teaches both graduates and undergraduates, most of them English majors.

He finds that UIC students tend to be more mature and English majors, in particular, more skilled at reading.

"They have a little better sense of what they are doing," he said.

Hall goes to great lengths for his students -- literally. He lives in DeKalb, where his wife is a faculty member in speech and hearing science at Northern Illinois University. He drives his car to Aurora each day and hops a train to Chicago.

Hall said he "gets the best of both worlds," because he lives in a quiet, sleepy town and works in Chicago.

Assistant professor of psychology
Liberal Arts and Sciences
COURSES: Introduction to psychology, research methods, statistics, writing, developmental psychology, abnormal psychology and interviewing

Karen Jordan taught part time at a number of institutions before coming to UIC for a full-time position in 1998.

"I like UIC students," she said. "They are excited and feel good about being here.

"They are all different ages and backgrounds -- they are not cookie-cutter students, and I enjoy that."

She credits her success in the classroom to a deep love of learning.

"I like to learn for the joy of learning. I hope to transmit that to my students -- to learn for the excitement rather than the grade. I hope that's why I was nominated."

Jordan recommends that students take advantage of all the opportunities UIC offers to get as much experience as possible and prepare for a career.

"I keep an eye on how my classes will benefit a student in the long run," she said.

Teaching was a natural choice for Jordan.

"I always loved school, since first grade really," she said. "Teaching enables me to stay in the academic environment and around people who like to keep learning and want to be continually challenged."

She is extra busy this semester with a brand new pupil: daughter Macy, born March 20.

Lecturer in mathematics, statistics and computer science
Liberal Arts and Sciences
YEARS AT UIC: 28 (plus graduate school)
COURSES: algebra, precalculus, calculus, finite math for business, calculus for business
OTHER AWARDS: 1989, 1993 and 1996 Silver Circle Awards; 1996 and 1998 Extra Mile Award (for "going the extra mile beyond disability accommodations and making significant contributions to the advancement of students with disabilities")

"I enjoy what I'm doing so much that I think students pick up on that," said Calvin Kafka of his fourth Silver Circle Award.

Part of his success, Kafka said, lies in giving students clear guidelines for his courses. He gives plenty of pop quizzes and lots of homework problems; if they keep up, he tells them, they'll fare well.

Math is a difficult subject to teach, especially to students fraught with "math anxiety," but Kafka does his best to make it entertaining.

He enjoys particularly pulling examples from history to show students how mathematical concepts enabled the ancients to learn more about the universe.

For instance, when he teaches proportions, he recites the case of Eratosthenes, who, in 230 B.C., estimated the circumference of Earth by using proportions.

Even after so many years, Kafka said he hasn't tired of teaching. The years have helped him understand the root of students' questions, even when they have difficulty articulating what exactly they don't understand.

In fact, Kafka delights in answering students' questions when they raise their hands in class -- even before they open their mouths.

It happens so often that students are beginning to think he is telepathic.

Assistant professor of Latin American studies
Liberal Arts and Sciences
COURSES: Gender, class and race among Latinos; indigenous ways of knowing; Latinos in a transnational perspective
OTHER AWARDS: 1998 Institute for Research on Race and Public Policy Award, 1996 Great Cities Faculty Scholars Fellowship, 1996 UIC Campus Research Board grant, 1993 Rockefeller Foundation Post-Doctoral Fellowship

For Victor Ortiz, teaching was "a given."

He believes the best way to teach is to learn; he learns from his students "through a lot of open-ended questions that students hate at first and come to love at the end, I guess."

Ortiz likes to challenges students in a supportive way, because the process "provides an occasion to them to learn and realize that their capacity to handle the big questions I throw at them is bigger than the questions themselves.

"I feel it is very important to give students an opportunity to trust themselves. My job is only to be open to and amazed by them."As an anthropologist, his courses reflect his personal concerns about our changing society.

"I am very intrigued and concerned that difference turns into inequality so easily, so I'm interested in understanding the dynamics and perceptions that go into creating people as the 'other,'" he explained.

"I hope my teaching prepares students to contend with the complexities in a context of worsening polarization and unprecedented opportunities."

Associate professor of art and design
Architecture and the Arts
YEARS AT UIC: 19 (plus 8 years at UIUC)
COURSES: Studio art: painting, drawing and color theory; Seminars on contemporary art
OTHER AWARDS: 1998 Council for Excellence in Teaching and Learning Award

"What makes me unique as a teacher -- then again, maybe it doesn't -- is that I like to challenge my students' perception of the world," said Susan Sensemann.

"I want them to recognize their own unique gifts, their own sensibilities and idiosyncrasy, and transfer what they have learned about themselves to their art."

Sensemann is a painter whose work has been exhibited at the Roy Boyd Gallery in Chicago and Los Angeles and at galleries in Atlanta and Brazil. She uses her enthusiasm for art to establish relationships in her classes, tailoring each class to the individual student.

"I learn each student's name by the second day of class, no matter how many are in the course. I am very enthusiastic about the subject matter and learning process. I guess that enthusiasm carries over to my students and my teaching."

Sensemann admits she is willing to do whatever it takes to educate her students about finding their own artistic qualities.

"Art must be personal. Students must recognize and pursue their own passions."

Associate professor of education
COURSES: Teaching and learning mathematics and science in the elementary school (graduate and undergraduate), and graduate courses in science and mathematics education
OTHER AWARDS: 1997 Teaching Recognition Program Award; 1996 College of Education nominee for the Excellence in Teaching Award

Maria Varelas spends much of her time preparing tomorrow's elementary-school teachers of mathematics and science.

"My goal is to help teacher candidates develop a rich and balanced sense of what it takes to teach science and mathematics to elementary-school children," said Varelas.

"I want my students to experience in my classes the kind of learning and teaching that they might strive for in their own classes."

Over the past two years, Varelas has helped redesign the Elementary Education Certification Program in the College of Education.

With colleagues from the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, she is leading two National Science Foundation-funded projects to strengthen teacher preparation and education in science and mathematics.

In one project, UIC and six Chicago-area community colleges work together to improve teacher preparation for elementary and secondary schools. In the other project, graduate students in UIC science and mathematics departments work closely with K-12 teachers in their classrooms.

"This program allows UIC yet another venue to make a difference in schools in the city and surrounding suburbs."

Varelas believes teaching is a form of scholarship that should be celebrated and rewarded.

"I'm pleased that the call for excellence in teaching is very much alive at UIC," she said.

Research associate professor of biomedical and health information sciences
Health and Human Development Sciences
COURSES: Hematology, clinical education practicum, clinical correlations

Donna Weaver was surprised to learn of her Silver Circle -- she figured she was too tough on her clinical laboratory sciences students to ever receive a teaching award.

"My teaching style is no-nonsense," she said.

Weaver, a specialist in hematology (the study of blood), dislikes lecturing more than any form of teaching; she uses it only when necessary to teach students the basics.

She loves applied learning and makes sure her students spend a lot of time in the lab.

"You can have students who have no problem writing down the procedure for cross-matching a unit of blood to determine the compatibility of blood between potential recipients and donors, but put that same kid in front of the lab bench and the results can be disastrous," she said.

Weaver likes cooperative learning assignments that put students together to work on case studies and presentations.

"I have seen students come in with the attitude of, 'I don't want to talk to anyone. I just want to come to class and make my A's,'" she said.

"But because we make them work cooperatively and apply what they've learned, by the end of the semester, I see them stand up and present a science paper with self-assurance, prepared to answer any questions."

Weaver holds students to high professional standards because the profession demands it -- 70 to 80 percent of all medical decisions are based on lab test results.

In addition to teaching, she conducts workshops on educational testing and method evaluation.

"I'm up to my eyeballs in teaching," she said.

"A good teacher doesn't have to be told 'thank you.'

"My thank you is all the students who get work after graduation and all the employers who want to hire our students."

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