UI attracts new professors with fresh teaching philosophies

Angela Green, a new assistant professor, gives a course overview of Humanity in the Food Web on Tuesday in the Agricultural Engineering Sciences Building. Erica Magda

Angela Green, a new assistant professor, gives a course overview of Humanity in the Food Web on Tuesday in the Agricultural Engineering Sciences Building. Erica Magda

By Alissa Groeninger

There are several new faces on campus this year, and many of those faces belong to professors with the goal of bettering students.

These recently hired faculty members have come straight from doctoral work, teaching and research positions at other universities or from other jobs. They have transitioned here from all over the U.S. and beyond.

“We look for very high-achieving and high-ability individuals who come from diverse backgrounds,” said Ruth Watkins, University vice provost.

Diversity, potential and teaching excellence are among the traits the University looks for when hiring new faculty.

“The excellence of the institution is a critical factor in attracting more excellence,” Watkins said.

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Angela Green, assistant professor of agriculture and biological engineering, arrived at the University in February. This will be her first semester teaching as she recently received her doctorate from Iowa State University.

She said she is glad to be a part of the best agricultural engineering program in the country. As a member of the faculty she hopes to contribute to the University community, and in turn, develop students who can contribute to society.

“I just hope I’m able to get students excited and motivated about learning course content and succeeding at the U of I,” Green said.

Anupam Agrawal, assistant professor in business administration, said he believes the community fosters productivity amongst staff.

“I like the atmosphere here, which (is) more conducive to research and training,” he said.

While here, Agrawal plans to continue his research and teach both undergraduate and graduate students.

“My goals are to merge my teaching and research together … to help students,” he said.

The agriculture department at the University is known worldwide, said Kathy Baylis, visiting assistant professor in agricultural and consumer economics. This is why the Canada native decided to leave her former school in British Columbia to teach in Illinois.

“I actually want to do research that matters to people … and is applicable policy-wise,” she said.

Paul Polinski, lecturer in accountancy, decided to return to teaching after years of working in the business sector and decided to do so at the University.

“There’s always going to be people who are clamoring to work here,” he added.

During his time on campus so far, he said he has noticed that the University is committed to making expenditures and providing faculty with teaching and research support. He also said the students are great, making campus a comfortable place for professors.

“I want to be able to live up to the reputation that the U of I has,” Polinski said.

Teaching takes place outside of the classroom, said Barbara Fiese, professor in human development and family studies and director of the Family Resiliency Center. She hopes to involve undergraduates in research and expose students to interview techniques, public health issues and presentation styles, which are all areas around which her work with families revolves.

Some new faculty members will not begin teaching right away. For example, Fiese is focusing on several projects, including a program for community members affected by autism, a Web site providing parenting tips and a program that encourages family members to eat with one another.

Fiese is looking forward to creating new disciplines. She hopes many of the University’s departments can work together.

“I just saw the potential,” Fiese said. “I saw the work that had been started here (to bring disciplines together).”

Marcela Raffaelli, professor in human and community development, said she is adjusting well to the University. Much of Raffaelli’s research focuses on Latino families. Because the Latino population in central Illinois is growing, her research is more timely.

“Part of our mission is to serve the state, better (people’s) lives,” she said.

Raffaelli said she hopes to build a research team with her students because practicing research skills is crucial.

“I love walking across the Quad, I love the energy of the place, I love the opportunity that I see here,” she said.

One commonality among many new professors is that the people within their departments have helped make their transition easier. Both Green and Baylis are already looking forward to cheering on University athletics.

“I have my orange T-shirt ready to go,” Baylis said.