Silver Circles: Helena Olea

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.

Helena Olea (Photo: Jenny Fontaine)

Helena Olea
Lecturer in criminology, law and justice
Silver Circles: 1
Years at UIC: 5

What does it mean to win this award from the graduating seniors?
It is the reflection of the appreciation of the students, which is, in my view, the most important reward that I can receive. The award is a confirmation that my teaching helped them, that it was meaningful, and that they learned. I often remember the invaluable lessons that I learned from many of my professors and teachers, and I feel honored and privileged of being able to do the same for my students.

What do you teach?
At the Department of Criminology, I teach an introductory course on rights, justice and the law, and a course on comparative criminal institutions, which is a writing in the discipline course. In both courses, I teach about legal systems, threading questions on rights and justice. And at the Department of Latin American and Latino Studies, I teach Gender in Latin America, where I present a wide array of challenges, opportunities and triumphs faced by women and LGBTQ persons in the region. 

How do you engage students in your courses?
With a combination of all means of struggle. I try to include engaging readings and videos so that students come to class prepared. In class, not only do I lecture, but also use different methodologies to foster discussions and active learning. My goal is that they leave the class with new ideas, questions and interests. Evaluations are learning opportunities, and I design them to complement the learning objectives of the course.

What is your advice to graduating students?
This is a major accomplishment, celebrate it! Search for interesting, challenging jobs and generous supervisors. Look for environments, individuals and tasks that are meaningful to you. Look until you find the space and the conditions under which you can thrive and you can make a difference.

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