Excellence in Teaching: Vahe Caliskan
Each year, UIC honors some of its most dedicated and outstanding teachers with the Award for Excellence in Teaching. The winners, who receive a $5,000 salary increase, are selected by past recipients of the award from nominations made by departments and colleges.
Clinical associate professor, electrical and computer engineering
Years at UIC: 11
What does it mean to win an Excellence in Teaching Award?
I feel very honored and humbled to receive this award. It feels amazing to be recognized for something that you really enjoy doing. It is also a confirmation of the importance of teaching and our role as educators.
What do you teach?
I primarily teach courses in Electrical Engineering. I usually teach the introductory freshman course in the ECE department, which has a yearly enrollment of approximately 300 students. I also teach intermediate, advanced and technical elective courses in circuit theory. In the past years, I have also taught courses in electronics, control systems and our capstone senior design course.
How do you engage students in your courses?
You have to start by making sure that you don’t disengage the students. This means saying no to Powerpoint! I handwrite my lectures, which allows students to take notes. I feel this is essential in my area since most lectures involve problem-solving, which cannot be illustrated by paging through a set of slides. Whenever possible, I also try to reinforce the material in the courses by using real-life examples and draw from my time working in industry. In addition, I try to learn the names of the students and invite them to use my first name when addressing me. In my walks through the campus, it was not unusual for me to see students waving and yelling my name from across the quad during pre-COVID times.
What do you enjoy most about teaching at UIC?
I really enjoy my daily interaction with students. It is through these interactions that I get to understand their background, goals and challenges. These and other informal discussions with the students allow me to better address the needs of our students. I also enjoy working with my colleagues, staff and administration that also recognize the importance of teaching. It is their guidance, support and encouragement that create an excellent working environment.
What are your research interests?
My research interests are in analog, audio and power electronics. I worked in the automotive electronics industry for nearly a decade so that is also an area of interest.
What is your advice to students considering a teaching career?
I think teaching is a very honorable and worthwhile career choice, and it is one where you need to learn it by actually doing it. Watching others teach and reading books and articles on teaching will give you some valuable information; however, you are never going to know what it feels like to stand in a classroom in front of students until you actually do it. Therefore, if you are considering teaching as a career, you should look for opportunities to learn, practice and hone your craft. For example, you can start by volunteering as a tutor in one of the many student organizations on campus. You should also inquire if your home department has openings for undergraduate students that serve as graders or lab assistants. If you are a member of a professional or honor society in your field, you can offer to teach a workshop or a seminar in a topic of mutual interest. You can even start by leading a study group for a course you are currently taking.