Memorizing the names of 350 students

Robert Paul Malchow

“It’s a lot of fun to hand a microphone to someone and say, ‘Joe, what to you think?’” says Paul Malchow, who learns all his students’ names. 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.


Paul Malchow is open to any strategy to better engage his students, combining new technology with tried-and-true methods.

Malchow’s Bios 100 class has nearly 350 students, but with Blackboard, he creates a class picture to study on his commute. As a result, he knows each student’s name.

“It’s a lot of fun to hand a microphone to someone and say, ‘Joe, what to you think?’” says Malchow, associate professor of biological sciences. “It makes a very different dynamic.”

He assigns short animations, so that students come to class already familiar with the topic. “If you ask a student to read a chapter, they won’t,” he says.

He likes class demonstrations, involving as many students as possible. To help them understand the cell cycle, he brings them to the front of the room to walk through the process of replicating DNA and dividing.

“The feedback that I’ve gotten from the students is that these demonstrations really serve to clarify concepts which, for a beginning student, can be challenging and mystifying.”

Malchow’s research concerns the retina — how its cells talk to one another using various chemical cues.

“I view it as a happy part of the brain to study, easily accessible and readily stimulated in natural ways,” he says.

“I like the blending of teaching and research. One informs the other and that’s a good thing.”

To make students feel more comfortable, Malchow holds office hours in two informal locations: an atrium near his lab in the Science and Engineering Laboratories building and at the African American Cultural Center library.

He likes the moment “when you see that light bulb go on,” he says.

“Suddenly there’s an ‘aha!’ moment. It’s addicting, that ‘aha!’ moment.”

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