Face-to-face with teaching excellence

Out of 584 nominations, five recipients have been selected to receive the Illinois Student Senate’s Teaching Excellence Award. The winners will attend a banquet honoring them on Feb. 19. This year’s honorees are Lawrence Angrave, Ron Kovatch, Mark Leff, Ollie Watts Davis and Christina Barrera.

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h2. Lawrence Angrave

_Department of Computer Science_

*The Daily Illini:* How do you feel about winning this award?

*Lawrence Angrave:* Honored.

*DI:* What’s your advice to aspiring educators?

*LA:* Always think about content of course and point of view of the students. Always look for ways to innovate and where is best to innovate. Make sure your department supports you and is excited about innovation and teaching excellence. I’m very lucky to be in the computer science department here. There’s a lot of institutional support and interest in teaching.

*DI:* What’s your favorite thing about teaching?

*LA:* It’s seeing students be passionate about computer science and thinking about their future potential and how they are going to change the world. It’s when students are looking beyond course content. And seeing them help each other is part of building a strong computer science community.

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h2. Mark Leff

_Department of History_

*DI:* How do you feel about winning this award?

*Mark Leff:* Amazed. I was thrilled. I was honored. I was completely surprised. I’ve won teaching awards, but often I have some idea that I was being considered. I had none. I was completely blind-sided by it and whoever ended up nominating me for it … it was a wonderful thing for them to do.

*DI:* What’s your advice to aspiring educators?

*ML:* You go into teaching at any level out of a commitment to the process of education itself. And because you need to be excited about what you’re teaching, you need to believe that it’s the kind of thing that will spark the interest of, answer the questions of and respond to the curiosity of your students. The other thing I’d say is that education as they (students) would know is not a pot of information that you’re dropping in the lap of someone else. Anything that you do in education is going to be a joint process that you can only do by getting as much as you can of the interest and inclination and passions of your students. They are gaining knowledge throughout their lives which gives them tools to continue to make a difference. A lot of my students have gone on to make a difference in their students’ lives and that’s always what the focus is.

*DI:* What’s your favorite thing about teaching?

*ML:* The thing that really has always energized me is that I can constantly be surprised. I like to hear what students have to say. But there’s another thing I like too, which is that one of the things with my courses, more than most, is the kinds of skills that I can see. I can see students develop abilities about understanding how to assess an argument, how to make an argument, how to debate, how to try to bring about change and how to defend your own position. I like the opportunity of seeing that working itself out. I can teach the same course, but it’s not the same course. It has the same name or title, but the students make it a different course … What I like about teaching anyway is it can take issues that both my students and I want to better understand, and it gives us an opportunity to do it. I’m retiring. This is my last year. I’m sure I’m going to stay in touch with the University. I’ll be around here. But it’s just nice as I’m teaching in this final full semester in my career to have received that kind of recognition.

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h2. Ron Kovatch

_School of Art and Design_

*DI:* How do you feel about winning this award?

*Ron Kovatch:* Well, it’s nice to be recognized. I’ve been teaching since 1988, and I haven’t won any teaching awards. I don’t look at the idea of teaching as something awardable. I guess it’s kind of interesting that I collect a paycheck for this and receive benefits. It’s not a goal to win an award. I teach art. I teach people how to be artists. It’s a very inexact science. I try to teach it differently every semester because I think the art world changes and my attitude towards art world changes. It’s kind of embarrassing. It’s gratifying and kind of makes me feel embarrassed at the same time. Somebody’s bringing attention to something I do on daily basis.

*DI:* What’s your advice to aspiring educators?

*RK:* I don’t have any advice except try to keep your head above water. I approach this from such a personal point of view. Teachers should … find a way to enjoy it.

*DI:* What’s your favorite thing about teaching?

*RK:* I’m really happy that I have academic freedom because it allows me autonomy for decisions on how I want to address a group of students or an individual student. I have a lot of freedom on how I deliver content. Some of it is in the form of a lecture or hands on demonstration. I get to choose that. There are smart, talented and motivated students here. And their response to my delivery is fun. They kind of inspire me. They kind of bring ingredients to this relationship and make a positive contribution. My studio art classes are small. They are capped off at about 15 or 20 students and so I get to know each student a little bit. It’s a challenge, and it keeps me sharp. Some of the things I hear myself saying in the classroom then come back into my own private studio. If I tell students to do certain things or take risks with their artwork, it must mean I have to do that, too.

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h2. Ollie Watts Davis

_School of Music_

*DI:* How do you feel about winning this award?

*Ollie Watts Davis:* I’m deeply honored that my students regard my teaching in such high manner. It’s wonderful to be recognized for your effort and commitment.

*DI:* What’s your advice to aspiring educators?

*OWD:* You have to love what you’re doing and people. You must have tremendous facility, teaching knowledge and subject knowledge. You must be a lifelong learner because each class I enter gives me a brand new environment and brand new challenge. You have to be flexible as well.

*DI:* What’s your favorite thing about teaching?

*OWD:* The students. I really love the eager students, the enthusiasm and the quest for knowledge.

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h2. Christina Barrera

_Department of Chemistry_

*DI:* How do you feel about winning the award?

*Christina Barrera:* I’m really excited and glad that my students think so highly of me. I’m really excited to win.

*DI:* What’s your advice to aspiring educators?

*CB:* It’s important to go in with a positive attitude. You should get to know students as people and not just your students. You can connect with them better this way.

*DI:* What’s your favorite thing about teaching?

*CB:* I think just interacting with students. It’s nice to show them that I’m not just a random teacher. They see me as a person and trust me.