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Pina receives UIC Teaching Recognition Award

Luis Pina

Assistant Professor Luís Pina is the recipient of UIC’s 2023-2024 Teaching Recognition Award, which honors excellent examples of teaching.

Pina, who joined UIC in 2019, relies on meticulous preparation, an engaging lecture style, and frequent evaluation with prompt student feedback as an instructor. He rewards classroom effort and curates a learning experience with no surprises.

Pina’s syllabi typically have a point of evaluation every other week, and as a result, no single evaluation point can “make or break” a student’s grade. Pina grades assignments automatically, providing immediate feedback, and allows resubmissions of problems so students can learn and grow. At the beginning of each lecture, Pina displays an anonymized bar chart so students can compare how they are doing with the rest of the class.

Pina also engages students through videos, iClicker student response software, and the use of memes. He provides real-world examples of the concepts he is explaining.

“The infrastructure they use is based off the real world, using continuous integration and testing,” Pina said. “When they become professional developers that’s exactly what they will find.”

His approach to teaching is in direct contrast to his own education, at the Instituto Superior Técnico in Lisbon, Portugal, where he completed his bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees.

“I came from a school that prided itself on being hard and having failing grades. The school admitted 170 students, and only about two-thirds made it to year two,” Pina said. “I reject this approach; it was very much sink or swim but it left so many people behind that would otherwise be very good engineers.”

Pina hopes his teaching style allows students to see that if they put in the work, they can thrive. He believes this is especially useful to first-generation college students, who may find themselves in an unfamiliar setting on campus and may not believe they have what it takes to succeed.

The first course Pina taught at UIC was CS 474, Object Oriented Language and Environments. He went on to develop a special topics course, CS 494, Principles of Concurrent Programming. He created it to address the use of multi-core hardware architectures, which have processing units that can perform different computations simultaneously. As a result, software applications must use multiple threads of execution to take advantage of hardware capabilities. The course was added as a technical elective to the curriculum for the Spring 2022 semester as CS 454.

During the Covid-19 shutdown, Pina offered virtual coffee hours outside of class, so students could get to know one another, and have interactions outside of the classroom. He continues the tradition today, now in person.

Pina also taught the required course CS 361, Systems Programming, in Spring 2023. He had over 200 students, with 12 lab sections and 12 teaching assistants.

“I design my courses in a way that regardless of the size of the course, I can give everyone a uniform experience,” Pina said.

Pina was released from teaching duties for the Fall 2023 semester, after the large teaching load he had for Spring 2023. He spent that time on his research and received his first National Science Foundation grant. He and two of his students have a paper under submission. This semester, he is teaching CS 454 again.

“I love conducting research, and teaching comes with that. But I realized that I can’t really have the same impact writing papers; if I teach 60 students each semester that’s 120 people I’m directly impacting,” Pina said. “That’s a really great reward.”

Pina will be honored for his win at the August Faculty Awards Ceremony and Reception. He is one of 16 awardees, from a pool of 65 applicants. In 2022, he received the College of Engineering Teaching Award.