Event honors educators who nurture and prepare UChicago students to become teachers

The University of Chicago’s Office of College Admissions recently hosted its annual Outstanding Educator Dinner to honor high school teachers, counselors and principals who provided exceptional guidance and support to students who recently completed their first year in the College.

“We asked students to nominate an educator who has changed them challenged them, or helped them along the path of intellectual growth,” said Karen Warren Coleman, vice president for Campus Life and Student Services. “This is an opportunity to acknowledge and honor those who cultivate our incoming students and help them to be successful.”

This year’s awards dinner, held June 1 in the Gordon Center for Integrative Science, focused specifically on the Chicagoland area, honoring 22 local educators from schools as diverse as Benet Academy near Naperville to Jones College Prep in Chicago’s South Loop. “UChicago is a place that recognizes that you don’t get amazing students without amazing teachers,” said Peter Wilson, chief of staff and associate director of admissions at UChicago.

Wilson added that the event also serves as a reminder of the University’s role and reputation as "the teacher of teachers.” A College exit survey administered in 2012 indicated that 23 percent of UChicago undergraduates planned to pursue careers in education and academia, said Nahida Teliani, who runs the UChicago Careers in Education Professions program. Teliani said her office was created in the wake of the survey specifically to “nurture and prepare” students pursuing that path. “So many of our students are going into teaching,” she said. “That’s something we need to embrace—having really strong, young educators in the K-12 space.”

Awardee Matt Knoepke, a biology teacher now finishing his eighth year at Homewood-Flossmoor High School, was a student like that. Knoepke majored in biology at UChicago, where he had an inkling early on that teaching was for him. “I wanted to be either a foot surgeon or a high school biology teacher,” he said. “Teaching won out.” 

Knoepke was nominated by his former student Gabi Cipriano because of his passion for science and his encouragement of intellectual inquiry. “I really liked his openness to questions,” Cipriano said. “He answered our questions without being at all impatient. … He never shooed us away or said it had nothing to do with what we were learning.”

That commitment to knowledge is something UChicago considers a public good, said John W. Boyer, dean of the College, who addressed awardees and students. “When we teach, we’re not only interacting with bright people, but we’re regenerating, reimagining and recasting American public culture every day.

“These students are going to go on to be leaders in their professions in the economic world, the business world, and medicine, and in media, journalism and the arts,” Boyer added. “The kind of sensibilities and imagination and courage they will bring is shaped in the educational institutions for which we have responsibility.”