Silver Circles: Max Berkelhammer

Max Berkelhammer

Max Berkelhammer, assistant professor, Earth and environmental sciences. Photo: Jenny Fontaine

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.

Silver Circles: 1
Years at UIC: 4

What does it mean to win this award from the graduating seniors?

The students at UIC are the best and it is nice to feel like I was able to have a memorable impact on their time here. I know there are many, many great teachers on campus and so being recognized amongst this crowd makes this honor even more rewarding.

What do you teach?

This semester I teach a class called “Earth Systems,” a second class called “Stable Isotope Geochemistry” and I co-teach a class called “Climate, Contamination and Chicago.”

How do you engage students in your courses?

The ideal class for me is one where I get through less than 50 percent of the material I intended. I want to constantly be interrupted and sent off on tangents by the students. I want the students to know the class does not have a rigid structure but is designed to respond to their interests.

What are your research interests?

I am a climate scientist who studies the way that the land surface impacts the atmosphere. Gases such as carbon dioxide and methane and energy are transferred between the land and the atmosphere, and I study the processes that influence these exchanges. For example, I am interested in how forests respond to changes in snowpack, and how ice sheets transfer water and energy to the atmosphere.

What is your advice to graduating students?

Find a job that you love. It might not be your first job and it might take years to find, but it’s worth the effort.

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