Silver Circles: John Betancur

John Betancur
John Betancur (Photo: Roberta Dupuis-Devlin)

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.

John Betancur
Professor of urban planning and policy
Silver Circles: 1
Years at UIC: 40

What does it mean to win this award from the graduating seniors? 
A lot. Not only did it catch me by surprise, but it came from the students themselves. I feel honored and humbled at the same time. I love teaching and put my life into it.

What do you teach? 
I teach graduate and undergraduate courses. Until 2008, the department offered graduate degrees only. After the establishment of the college’s undergraduate degree, Urban and Public Affairs, our faculty started teaching some undergraduate courses. Currently, I teach two undergraduate and two graduate courses. The undergraduate courses I have taught regularly are Globalization and Urban Studies and Political Economy, both courses required for Urban Studies undergraduates.

How do you engage students in your courses? 
Since day one, I encourage them to take responsibility for their own process of learning and to provide feedback on an ongoing basis on the dynamics and contents of the class. I do my best to stand in their shoes and figure out how to connect the teaching to their experiences and to their personal growth and professional aspirations. I am very concerned about developments in their lives that stand in the way of learning and encourage them to seek help as needed and to use personal challenges to grow. As far as the dynamics of the class, I try to be natural, engaging and personable. I encourage critical thinking, creativity initiative and choice. Most importantly, I encourage students to use every opportunity to share with others and to treat others as they wish to be treated.

What is your advice to graduating students? 
To apply their learning and their growth to improve their lives and to make society a better place. I encourage them to strive to be better humans every day, to seek a balance between work and other aspects of life, to use their mistakes as a challenge to accept those of others, and to be humble in success and get up quickly in defeat. 

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