2017 Silver Circle winner Mitchell Roitman

Mitchell Roitman

“I want students to see neuroscience all around them,” says Mitchell Roitman. (Photo: Jenny Fontaine)

Since 1966, the Silver Circle Award has been presented to some of UIC’s best teachers. Winners, who are honored at their college commencements, receive $500 and their names join a long list of distinguished colleagues. But what makes the award especially meaningful is its selection committee: the graduating seniors.

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Students in Mitchell Roitman’s class spend a day inside their heads to understand how the brain and body work together to generate behavior.

They write “a day in the life of my brain” paper to explain mundane aspects of life — what happens when the alarm clock goes off or they skip breakfast and feel hungry — in neuroscience terminology.

“I want students to see neuroscience all around them,” said Roitman, associate professor and director of graduate studies in psychology.

Roitman keeps his students engaged by showing clips from his favorite comedies and using visual illus-
trations to make neuroscience come alive.

“I really don’t want anyone’s eyes glazing over looking at text,” he said. “I want their eye to visualize neurons, or to deconstruct and put back together neural pathways of the brain.”

Roitman teaches behavioral neuroscience to undergraduates in two settings: a lecture class with as many as 150 students and a lab that’s limited to 20 students. The lecture course is a gateway for declaring the neuroscience major, he said.

“One of the things I love so much about the lecture course is that I often get students very early on in their undergraduate career and I have a chance to turn them on to the biological basis of behavior,” he said. “You see a lightbulb go on with some of the students who didn’t know this field existed.”

Roitman, who joined UIC in 2006, focuses his research on understanding the neural basis of motivated behavior and how particular circuits in the brain are involved in normal adaptive behavior and maladaptive behavior.

“We seek out and consume things that we need to stay alive, but we also pursue things that are not healthy for us and may be detrimental to us, like drugs or food that’s not nutritious,” said Roitman, associate chair of the Laboratory for Integrative Neuroscience.

Roitman’s advice for the graduating students who nominated him for the award?

“Find something you’re passionate about,” he said. “I know I found something that I’m passionate about and I think that success is fueled by passion.”

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