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Issue: 05/05/04

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Seniors select outstanding teachers

2004 Silver Circle Awards

silver circle winners 05/05/04
Public Affairs

Clockwise: Gloria Balague, Richard Levy, Karen Patena, Steve Kelso, Robert Messer and Mary Brown.

Clinical assistant professor of psychology
Liberal Arts and Sciences
OTHER AWARDS: Silver Circle

Judging by her enthusiasm for teaching, it is not hard to see why this is Gloria Balague’s second Silver Circle since joining UIC’s faculty in 1992.

“I love teaching. I like the interaction with the students, getting to know them and watching them learn and change,” she says.

Balague, a native of Spain, is a sports psychologist who travels throughout the world working with professional sports teams like the U.S. Track and Field Team. She helps athletes and coaches cope with the pressures associated with competition.

“It is an exciting field, because even very gifted people cannot use their skills if they are unable to focus effectively or keep their emotions and intensity at the right level.”

Despite the seemingly glamorous work and travel, Balague says she is always glad to return to her classroom.

“Even though I am involved in a lot of career pursuits,” says Balague, “when someone asks me my profession, I say I am a teacher. It feels more like something I am, not something I do.”

Lecturer in finance
Business Administration
OTHER AWARDS: three Silver Circles; Excellence in Teaching and Learning Recognition Award

Mary R. Brown’s teaching philosophy is guided by the concept that finance complements other topics.

“My teaching experience has shown me that students tend to see each course as a separate entity, not how it fits in with the curriculum as a whole.

“I teach finance and how it fits in with the rest of the disciplines, your life and the world,” Brown says.

Most of what she teaches can be applied at the corporate and the personal level.

“For example, my first-day lecture is about credit management,” she says.

“Most companies today do credit checks on their job applicants. They call it a ‘background check,’ but it’s really about security and credit. So credit management is important both at the corporate and personal level.”

Brown’s teaching activities involve the community.

For one project, “Adopt-A-Bank,” student groups did a performance analysis of local banks, including a portfolio analysis. In return for their cooperation, the banks received a free copy of the analysis.

“I try to make finance relevant to the students’ lives,” Brown says. “That’s what today’s students want.”

Associate professor of biological sciences
Liberal Arts and Sciences
OTHER AWARDS: Excellence in Teaching and Learning Recognition Award

Steve Kelso’s introductory biology course, “Cells and Organisms,” can have upwards of 350 students. It’s hardly an intimate setting.

“It’s a challenge to make these large, impersonal courses as good as possible,” says Kelso.

“Sometimes I’ll bring in buzzers or bells for students to ring. I introduce a lot of new biology vocabulary in lectures, so they buzz or ring to stop me and say, ‘Wait a minute, you haven’t explained that yet.’ It interrupts the monotony and it gets a little bit of interaction going on.”

On Halloween, he dressed as a ribosome: Mardi Gras beads tied to a tee-shirt represented different proteins; pieces of Styrofoam were messenger RNA molecules.

Kelso knows many students in his introductory biology class will not be science majors, but they need a good dose of science to become informed citizens.

“It’s a chance for me to expose them to areas of biology that they may need to know about in the future — cloning, stem cell research, origins of life, biotechnology,” he says.

Associate professor of history
Liberal Arts and Sciences

Richard Levy can’t remember ever wanting to be anything but a teacher, “aside from playing center field for the Chicago Cubs, for which I was not qualified.”

“It’s a job that allows for the positive influencing of important people,” he says.

“Seeing evidence of that in students is exhilarating and also a bit daunting.”

Levy blends humor and passion in his teaching.

His goals: “to impress students with the subject matter rather than my own dazzling personality; to get them to question received wisdom and common knowledge; to complicate rather than simplify; and to nurture the best and the brightest, without scanting the less gifted.”

Some of the traits he most admires in UIC students are “their variety, their lack of a sense of entitlement and their appreciation of the sorts of sacrifice required to give them the opportunity for a quality education — in general, their no-nonsense approach to the task at hand.

“I try to take my students seriously,” he adds, “to answer questions and allow for the sidelining of my agenda in favor of theirs, should they have one.”

His strategy for keeping them engaged in the classroom?

“Humor works best. And tough grading is also useful.”

Associate professor of history
Liberal Arts and Sciences
OTHER AWARDS: Shirley Bill Excellence in Teaching Award, history department

Robert Messer’s teaching style evolves with his students and their range of abilities and interests.

“It’s important to keep it fresh and new,” he says.

Messer incorporates pop culture into his courses whenever possible.

“I use that as a launching pad,” he says.

Messer is pleased when he runs into former students because, although they might not recall the name of the course, they do remember the critical thinking skills he stresses.

“My goal is to help people appreciate the value of thinking critically, which is thinking historically,” he says.

Even with a large class, Messer tries to interact with the students.

Messer says he especially appreciates the graduate program in the history department.

“Graduate students keep you on your toes.”

Clinical assistant professor of health information management
Applied Health Sciences
OTHER AWARDS: three Allied Health Sciences Student Council Excalibur Awards

When Karen Patena received her bachelor’s degree from UIC, her field was known as medical record administration.

Today one of her challenges is “making health information management a profession that prospective students understand and appreciate.”

She knows she’s succeeded when “I see students who started in the program not knowing much about health information management graduate with a degree that opens doors to many career opportunities,” she says.

Patena believes students must be challenged if they are to excel in a competitive field.

“Students may find my style of teaching difficult at first, as I tend to provide questions and resources rather than answers,” she says.

“I expect a lot, but I will work with you as much as is needed if you ask for help and demonstrate you are willing to work.”

“At least one student every year calls me after they graduate and says, ‘I didn’t appreciate the project when I was in school, but I’m sure glad I had the experience now that I’m working,’” Patena says.

“Then I know I made a difference."

Associate professor of anthropology
Liberal Arts and Sciences

One of the most important lessons Jack Prost wants to impart to his students is “Think for yourself.”

Prost, who joined UIC in 1969, teaches and studies physical anthropology and human and primate evolution.

He is among anthropologists who doubt the long-held theory that Neandertal and early humans interbred.

His book Who Were the Neandertals (2002 McGraw-Hill Publisher) presents research that challenges long-held tenets of anthropology about genetic and environmental traits.

“I wrote a book for students that would be easy to read,” he said. “I want to give them something to think about. I try to get them involved.”

Prost, an adjunct curator at the Field Museum, was department head for 11 years.

Lecturer in computer science
8 years

If you visit Dale Reed’s personal home page, you know he has a sense of humor.

Below the photo of the bearded Reed are the hyperlinked words: “lose the beard.” Click and enjoy an animated loop of various stages of Reed’s facial hair.

“I grow it to keep my face warm in the winter, but I shave it off in the spring, sometime between the last class and final exams,” says Reed.

“I do it just to make sure they’re awake when they hit that first exam question.”

Reed is always looking for ways to keep his students’ attention, even if it means jokes, games or skateboarding.

Yes, skateboarding.

“They thought I was bringing the skateboard to class as a prop, but it actually saves me about 30 minutes a week in commuting,” Reed says.

“So they said to me, ‘Ride it. Prove to us that you’re not just carrying it around.’ So I tried to do some tricks – a 360 in front of the class – and fell.

“They loved that,” he laughs.

Professor of political science
OTHER AWARDS: Silver Circle, Excellence in Teaching, American Political Association teaching award

Political science professor Dick Simpson has been teaching UIC students for almost four decades with one overriding goal: to get them engaged in politics.

He gives them the chance to meet high-ranking legislative officials and voice their concerns as students and citizens.

Simpson is no stranger to political controversy. A Chicago alderman from 1971-79, he often butted heads with Mayor Richard J. Daley.

Simpson is gratified when some of his students go into politics too.

“The success of some of the students I’ve taught, such as (former U.S. senator) Carol Moseley Braun, is why I teach,” he says.

Simpson encourages his students to think independently.

“I like students to have their own opinions but to be open to new information and ways of thinking about the society in which they live,” he says.

“I like idealistic students willing to be involved in creating a better society.”

Assistant professor
of policy studies
OTHER AWARDS: Faculty Scholar, Great Cities Institute; Research Fellow, Institute for Research on Race and Public Policy

David Stovall is interested in youth, community development and school-community relationships.

“I want to begin looking at what people are doing in the classroom that’s innovative and actually stimulating young people’s creativity in an era when standards and accountability are big,” he says.

This fall, he will study the Little Village and North Lawndale communities to help create a new high school set to open at 31st and Kostner Avenue in 2005.

“It’s actually going to be four small schools in one building,” he explains. “I’m on the design team for one of the small schools.”

Part of his success involves his ability to network with other scholars.

“A lot of what I’m looking at — social justice in education, community-youth development — is happening in New York,” Stovall says.

“I also enjoy the laid-back exchange of ideas and how people get down to business in the San Francisco Bay Area.”

Clinical associate professor
of architecture
OTHER AWARDS: American Institute of Architects Citation of Honor for work on behalf of people with disabilities; HUD Best Practices award for fair housing advocacy

Named one of the world’s top 100 architects by Architectural Digest, William Worn leads a dual life: half a day on campus and the other half at his office.

“Frankly, it’s a hindrance to a successful practice,” he admits. “But I can’t imagine not doing both right now. I think the students appreciate the professional point of view – and that only comes from practice.”

Worn is president and founder of Worn Jerabek Architects P.C., a 13-year-old firm that specializes in integrating sustainable techniques into architectural designs.

His work includes the Chicago City Hall rooftop garden. He is nationally recognized for his expertise in architecture for people with disabilities and he served on the Illinois Building Commission, where he chaired the accessibility committee.

Worn designed the renovation of the first two floors of University Hall, which will open next month as the Rebecca Port Faculty-Student Center.

“I love architecture, and that probably comes through to the students.”

Professor of chemistry
Liberal Arts and Sciences
OTHER AWARDS: 1979, 1998, 2001 Silver Circle

For more than 26 years, Paul Young has lectured to thousands of students in a UIC classroom and reached thousands more through his Web-based tutorial “Organic Chemistry Online.”

Young retired from UIC in December, but that did not deter students from giving him his fourth Silver Circle award.

As a professor in a difficult-to-understand subject, Young knows organic chemistry is a make-or-break course for many pre-professionals.

Known as soft-spoken and reserved outside the classroom, he lectures with the enthusiasm and conviction needed to hold his students’ attention.

“Far and above, the thing they respond to most is the clarity with which he presents the information,” says Donald Wink, professor and head of chemistry.

Young was an early proponent of technology in the classroom, including the use of PowerPoint for complex material and Web-based teaching tools.

“He has a very thorough understanding of the students in his class,” Wink says.

“It’s his ongoing engagement with students that is so important.”

Below clockwise: Paul Young, Jack Prost, Dick Simpson, William Worn, Dale Reed and David Stovall. silver circle winners

May 30, 2004

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