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Mitchell Theys receives UIC’s highest teaching honor

Mitchell Theys, a clinical associate professor of computer engineering, received UIC’s highest teaching honor: the Award for Excellence in Teaching. The accolade, given by the Office of the Provost and Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs, is bestowed on up to five faculty members per year university wide.

“It’s always nice to be recognized,” Theys said. “I enjoy teaching, I enjoy problem solving, and I enjoy trying to explain material to the students.”

Theys just finished his 21st year teaching at UIC. He considered a career in industry but thought academia would be more interesting and challenging. He specifically admires the student body at UIC.

“I’m amazed. I didn’t have to contend with student debt, with working, with supporting a family while in school. It makes you feel really good that we can help improve their situation and help them realize the opportunities to do what they want,” he said.

Theys says his biggest focus as an instructor is to get his students to ask questions.

“I often get, ‘How do I do it? Just tell me the steps that I need to do and I’ll do them.’ And that’s not what engineering is about. It’s about problem solving,” Theys said.

The move to online learning this spring, while difficult, provided some unexpected benefits in this area; Theys said he found many more of his students asking questions in the chat windows. Whether it was the anonymity provided by the online format or the unique situation of being isolated at home, Theys noted an increased level of interaction, which he hopes to keep up even when classes return to campus.

Theys is also the faculty advisor for both the Linux Users Group (LUGS) and Association for Computing Machinery Student Chapter (ACM) and finds that attending social activities with the groups helps his students relate to him.

Ultimately, teaching students to apply that creative, engineering mindset to their work is critical to Theys’ approach in the classroom.

“We can teach them the steps of problem solving. That’s why I think our students are in such high demand. A lot of students don’t have experience with applying the state of the art in a new way, and we encourage that here,” Theys said.

Theys and the other Award for Excellence in Teaching recipients are scheduled to be honored in a ceremony October 28, 2020.