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2003 Silver Circle Awards

UIC's annual teaching prize, bestowed by graduating seniors

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2003 Silver circle winners
The 11 winners of UIC’s annual teaching prize, selected by graduating seniors.

Associate professor of English
more than 30
British literature, contemporary literature from South Asia, Africa and the Caribbean
two previous Silver Circles

“I believe that fundamentally, we shape citizens,” says Nancy Cirillo in summing up her teaching philosophy.

“Whether the students are grad or undergrad, classrooms are sites of open exchange,” explains Cirillo. “Teaching is always the patient practice of the art of the possible.”

Cirillo identifies good listening skills as a key quality for an effective teacher.

“Teachers must listen. UIC students make it easy because they talk. And they’re so diverse that the talk feels effervescent,” enthuses Cirillo, who says she was drawn to teaching “immediately” by the opportunity of discussing exciting ideas with young people.

Years later, she still remembers a compliment on her research from a graduate school professor. It’s a feeling she tries to pass along to her own students.

“I was lifted up in a way I had never been before,” she recalls.

“The most rewarding part of teaching is watching students grow, figuring out every day how to make that happen,” she says.

Clinical instructor of nursing
Regional Program in Urbana

COURSE TOPICS: pediatric nursing, beginning courses in nursing

For Nancy Endress, teaching is not just a job. When she’s supervising the nursing students who teach local school children about health, it’s the “absolute favorite” part of her job.

“It’s exciting to watch students’ professional and personal growth,” she says. “It’s a pleasure to see them graduate and become good nurses.”

Endress relies on a variety of teaching methods “in an atmosphere of mutual respect and caring, where fun is part of the process.”

“Relationships and interactions with the students are the most satisfying aspects for me,” she says.

Class discussions might cover ways to establish caring nurse-client relationships or to help people adapt to new circumstances.

The current nursing shortage is a challenge for all nurses, Endress says.

The shortage is expected to intensify as baby boomers age and the need for health care grows, she says, while enrollment in nursing school drops nationwide.

Lecturer in electrical and computer engineering
20 (He also received his B.S. at UIC)
COURSE TOPICS: Circuit design, signal processing and communications, computer systems design and programming
OTHER AWARDS: 1988, 2000 Silver Circle; 1985 College of Engineering Harold Simon Award; 1986-88 Honors College fellow

Strategic thinking methods that keep him sharp at fencing and chess also help Vladimir (“Wally”) Goncharoff plan his lectures in circuitry and computer programming.

“The tools that engineers have at their disposal are always improving as new technology becomes established,” says Goncharoff. “This changes the material I teach and the tools available to teach it.”

Goncharoff’s area of research specialization is digital speech processing. He is a consultant at the Motorola Labs speech processing research group.

But he admits that if given the choice between the classroom and the laboratory, the classroom would win.

“Changes in my teaching style mostly have to do with experience and confidence in myself that I have gained over the years,” he says of his growing maturity as a teacher.

“Now that I am in the age range of parent for most of my students, it has helped me form a better teacher-student relationship with them.

“When I started teaching at UIC in 1983, I was 26 years old – only five or six years older than my average student.”

Associate professor of psychology emeritus
COURSE TOPICS: abnormal psychology, statistics, research design, advanced psychopathology, psychotherapy
OTHER AWARDS: four previous Silver Circles

“I have always loved teaching. When I was 14 years old, I used to perform frog dissections and teach the neighborhood kids the names of the internal organs,” says Larry Grimm.

By the time he was an advanced undergraduate at Western Michigan University, Grimm was a teaching assistant in introductory psychology.

“I have an absolute passion for teaching and I lecture with a great deal of energy and enthusiasm because I am having so much fun,” reflects Grimm with an easy smile.

“What is most rewarding to me are the moment-to-moment interactions in the classroom.”

Grimm went on to receive his Ph.D. from UIUC, then served as a psychology intern at a V.A. hospital in San Francisco, Calif. After his internship he returned to teaching, “the only profession that could make me happy.”

His teaching style is based on a few simple philosophies:

“1. Treat a class of 250 students as 250 unique individuals.
“2. Never get impatient and never treat a question as stupid.
“3. Always show respect to each student.
“4. Take a genuine interest in students’ personal lives.
“5. Make the learning environment fun.”

Grimm appreciates what he gains from his students, too.

“I love the ethnic and racial diversity of our undergraduates,” he says. “I have learned a great deal about other cultures by sitting with someone and asking questions.”

Grimm says his goals are the same that he has for his students.

“I want them to develop a lifelong goal of learning — develop critical thinking skills and a skepticism about what is held to be ‘true,’” he says.

“They should value diversity among people and feel compassion for those who are suffering.”

Professor of art history
COURSE TOPICS: modern and contemporary art, theory and photography

“I think of learning as a grand adventure and I try to recognize that same enthusiasm in my subject and in the students,” says Peter Hales.

“As a teacher, my primary motivation is my love of the material I teach and my belief that the messages carried in works of art and culture are powerful and liberating.”

Hales says teaching art history today is more interesting than when he first discovered the field.

“The old days of monuments laid out in an unmoving line from antiquity to the present are long gone; in place is a lively world that confronts everything from Rembrandt to Warhol, the Vatican to Disney World.”

For more than 10 years, Hales has been director of the American Studies Institute, which brings international scholars and teachers to UIC each summer for intensive graduate-level training in American culture and life.

Hales’ own research and writing focuses on the significance of everyday spaces and places. He is writing about Bob Dylan’s streets and Jimi Hendrix’s watchtower, “Miracle on 34th Street,” Donna Reed and the student deaths at Kent State University — all in one book.

“Today I might teach contemporary painting, and tomorrow be looking at site plans for nuclear waste facilities. How did I get to be so lucky?”

Research associate professor of chemistry
COURSE TOPICS: general and honors chemistry, computers in chemistry
OTHER AWARDS: 2000-01 Teaching Recognition Award

For Cindy Harwood, no chemistry lab is complete without test tubes, beakers, Bunsen burners and a state-of-the-art personal computer.

Half of her job is teaching, the other half is running the chemistry department’s Computational Chemistry Facility.

She is responsible for the maintenance and security of the chemistry department’s workstations, plus educating faculty and students in the use of computers.

Harwood says her goal as a teacher is to help students develop the confidence and tools they need to learn science and understand the relevance of chemistry in their lives.

“I enjoy all the courses, but especially the 100-level courses because the students are new to the university and this is an important time for them in their college careers.

“I like to approach these courses with a more personal attitude than they expect from a general chemistry course at a large, urban university.”

Instructor in managerial studies
3 (started doctoral program in fall 1997)
COURSE TOPICS: organizations, human resource management, career planning and development
OTHER AWARDS: 2002 Burack Ph.D. Fellowship

In Renata Jaworski’s classes, business is not something to dread.

Taking a page from the teaching styles she had as an undergraduate, Jaworski involves her students by asking probing questions.

“I very rarely lecture,” she says. “I do a lot of teaching through discussion and group competition.”

Jaworski, who earned her bachelor’s at UIUC, is working on a doctorate in the College of Business Administration.

“I had the chance to work with undergraduates while getting my master’s degree and I wanted to parlay that into a Ph.D. so I could teach as a career.”

She sees the positive impact her teaching has on many of her students.

“When you’re in a classroom, the feedback is immediate,” she says.

Lecturer in mathematics, statistics and computer science
30 (plus graduate school)
COURSE TOPICS: calculus, elementary mathematics, mathematics for business, intermediate algebra, pre-calculus
OTHER AWARDS: 1989, 1993, 1996 and 2000 Silver Circles; 1996 and 1998 Extra Mile Award for working with students with disabilities

When it comes to the Silver Circle Award, Cal Kafka is on a roll.

This is his fifth award, but he’s still thrilled by the honor.

“It’s really nice to know that voting seniors remember me from classes they took probably in their freshman year,” says Kafka.

“For the most part, I use methods that I have found work for the largest number of students,” he says.

“I prepare my lectures so that I begin looking at a concept by way of easy-to-understand examples, then work up to examples that are difficult.

“I especially like teaching intermediate algebra, because many of the students have had bad experiences taking math courses in the past. It is exciting to see them gain confidence in their ability.”

Outside the classroom, this mathematician’s favorite number may well be “57,” short for 1957, the year of the two-tone baby blue and white Chevrolet coupe he lovingly restored over six years.

“I always wanted a ’57 Chevy. My aunt had one and I thought it was great.”

And then there are the Alaskan malamute dogs — three, to begin with.

“My daughter always loved animals and wanted a dog,” Kafka says. “We got one, then another, then a third. I built a dog sled and we had a great time training the dogs.”

His daughter, who graduated from UIC in 2000, is now in veterinary school at the University of Prince Edward Island in Canada.

“Recently one of the dogs had a litter of 11. I guess my daughter will have an entire sled team now,” he says.

Associate professor of political science, associate professor of African-American studies
public law, gender and the law
OTHER AWARDS: UIC Alumni Association 2003 Flame Award for Teaching Excellence

The Socratic Method is alive and well at UIC.

Each semester, students in Kevin Lyles’ courses find themselves on their toes because they may be asked, at random, to “brief” legal cases in front of their peers.

“Most students that register for my classes have heard the ‘horror stories,’” acknowledges Lyles. “By reputation my classes are known to be challenging and therefore I attract many of the best students.

“These are good students, bright, motivated, and they push me to do my very best, every class,” he says. “It’s a real honor to teach them.”

Lyles says he want his students to find practical meaning in their course work.

“I think it was Bertrand Russell who wrote: ‘It should be one of the functions of a teacher to open vistas before his pupils, showing them the possibility of activities that will be as delightful as they are useful.’ To that end, in my classroom ‘political-social context’ is preferable to simply memorizing the Court’s landmark cases and doctrinal developments.

“Court decisions should not be studied in a vacuum.”

Lyles notes that, just as UIC students are appreciated for their diversity, they too appreciate the diversity of their faculty.

“I think many students recognize that my views are informed by my education and training as a political scientist but also by my life experiences as an African-American.”

Lyles says he understands the anxiety his students might feel sometimes in his classroom.

“I suffer from a chronic speech disorder,” he says. “So I am especially proud to be recognized as an effective communicator. The Silver Circle Award means more to me than you can imagine.”

Associate professor of criminal justice
COURSE TOPICS: trial interaction, legal discourse, introduction to criminal justice
OTHER AWARDS: 2001 Teaching Recognition Award

“Don’t just go where others have never been; go somewhere others have never thought of going,” is the advice Greg Matoesian gives his students.

Matoesian, whose area of expertise is language in legal settings, can trace his own teaching philosophy back to two mentors.

“Both always gave gentle guidance, but gave you room and support for your own ideas,” he says.

Matoesian, who taught at the University of Missouri-St. Louis before coming to UIC, notes the level of dedication he sees in many of his students here.

“Students at UIC are serious. They come here to learn and they’re eager and highly motivated to do so,” he says.

Matoesian is the author of two books, Reproducing Rape: Domination through Talk in the Courtroom (University of Chicago Press, 1993) and Law and the Language of Identity: Discourse in the William Kennedy Smith Rape Trial (Oxford University Press, 2001).

He uses audio and video tapes of criminal trials to talk about language, culture and power.

“The study of formal linguistics is a very abstract and difficult field,” he explains. “Through tapes, I bring abstract concepts down-to-earth and let students see issues in concrete detail.”

Finally, when the tape player is turned off and the last exam is graded, Matoesian hopes his students leave the class having gained, “an appreciation and love for a microscopic and taken-for-granted world.

“The so-called big and important issues of reality actually exist in the often unnoticed details of language use or talk-in-interaction. I think of myself as part of the microscope.”

Associate professor of education
COURSE TOPICS: teaching and learning science and mathematics in the elementary school (graduate and undergraduate); graduate courses in education with emphasis on science education
OTHER AWARDS: 2000 Silver Circle, 2003 and 1997 Teaching Recognition Program Award

For 10 years, Maria Varelas has prepared tomorrow’s elementary-school teachers of mathematics and science.

“ I keep nudging my students to excel, to revise their work till it becomes as good as it can be,” she says.

“As I am trying to build their understanding of and comfort in teaching urban children science and mathematics, I model for them the teaching they may strive for in their own classrooms.”

Students in Varelas’ classes go back and forth between educational theory and practice as she engages them in her own work with elementary school children.

“Teaching is an art and a science, fraught with many uncertainties, that takes students and teachers in new directions,” she says.

Varelas has helped redesign the Elementary Education Certification Program. With colleagues from the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, she leads two major National Science Foundation-funded projects focused on strengthening teacher preparation and education in science and mathematics.

For one project, she has worked with UIC and community college colleagues to design new science courses for elementary education and non-science majors.

She has placed teacher candidates in summer apprenticeships at national science laboratories in the area.In the other project, graduate students in UIC’s science and mathematics departments work closely with K-12 teachers in their classrooms to learn about urban education.

Contributing writers: Jeffron Boynes, Sharon Butler, Anne Dybek, Paul Francuch, Amanda Mazur

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