Finding a common ground with students

Sharon Oiga

“I can relate to the students and they can relate to me. We’re similar, so they find me approachable,” says Sharon Oiga. Photo: Roberta Dupuis-Devlin/UIC Photo Services


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.


Like many of her students, Sharon Oiga went to public schools and worked her way through college, graduating with a bachelor’s in graphic design at UIC.

“I can relate to the students and they can relate to me. We’re similar, so they find me approachable,” she says.

Oiga earned a master’s of fine arts at Yale, then returned to Chicago and worked at StudioLab, a firm headed by Marcia Lausen, director of the School of Design.

Oiga joined the UIC faculty in 2003, where she teaches courses in typography to undergraduates and a thesis development class to graduate students. She is on sabbatical this semester, working on two books, two typography conferences and a solo exhibition.

She finds the class that most impresses students is Typography III: Dimension. Each student designs a letterform in two and three dimensions, documented with a book, a poster and an exhibit. They also work together on a publication.

“It’s such a whole experience. They feel immersed, they’re living it. It’s complex and has so many components,” Oiga says.

Her students have won top honors from the University and College Design Association.

“I like to help students find their own sensibility. I don’t want them to make things like I’d make them,” says Oiga, who encourages students and alumni to get involved in professional conferences.

“All of their work develops so differently from each other. I have high expectations, so right away, they know I believe they can do it.”

Oiga stresses three things.

“Good old-fashioned hard work,” she says. “There’s no getting around it. Self-initiation. You have to want to do it, not wait to be told. And attitude — unceasing positivity. Take advantage of every door that opens.”

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