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Heeren Receives Rose Award for Teaching Excellence

7/21/2016 10:08:00 AM By Tom Moone, CS @ ILLINOIS

On April 28, CS Lecturer Cinda Heeren will receive the Rose Award for Teaching Excellence from the College of Engineering. This award recognizes teachers who excel at motivating freshman and sophomore students to learn and appreciate engineering. It fosters and rewards excellence in undergraduate teaching in the college.

Cinda Heeren
Cinda Heeren
Cinda Heeren

“I was excited and honored to receive this award,” said Heeren. “I was even grateful to be nominated. And I was grateful that the students had taken the time to write the letters of recommendation, because they are so busy.”

One of the courses that Heeren teaches is CS 225: Data Structures. It is a required course, which can mean that students may not be very excited about taking it. Nevertheless, Heeren consistently lands on the List of Teachers Ranked as Excellent for her work in this class.

Heeren’s teaching philosophy revolves around making a large class feel small. While the size of CS 225 makes it difficult, if not impossible, to meet with every student individually, Heeren does what she can to make them feel their concerns are addressed. “We hold consulting session that we call solution parties, where students still get their questions answered, but instead of doing it an individual setting, it becomes a social setting,” Heeren said. “They still feel connected to the course, and each other, and course staff.”

When describing what she likes about teaching, Heeren said, “It’s all about the people. I love that I know my door is going to be filled with people to talk to all day, every day. And they are very bright people.”

Heeren’s efforts have not gone unnoticed by her students. Student responses collected in support of this award include the following:

  • “Professor Heeren tried to go above and beyond in everything she does. She works tirelessly for her students (current and former), and is one of the most inspirational professors I’ve ever had.”
  • “She embodies what I believe a good professor to be, she is passionate and excited about the material she teaches and she passes that passion on to her class.”

Heeren is quick to point out that she does not do the work for such a large class alone. “The biggest reason that CS 225 is successful is course staff,” said Heeren. “Kids come through the course, and they love the material. And I hire them and they become mentors for the next semester. I think the true value in the course comes from the students I hire for course staff.”

Yet Heeren also gets a charge out of the students she interacts with every day. “Our students are just so incredibly bright,” she said. “Who gets to teach 600 kids who are all that bright? It’s amazing, the potential in that room.”

Though best known by students for the work she does with CS 225, Heeren is also teaching CS 398VL: Visualizing Literature, a course using The Once and Future King as a data source for natural language processing. The course gave Heeren another opportunity talk about the tenacity of CS students. “I showed them one little tool they could use and gave them three challenges to use with those tools, and you could not get them to leave,” she said. “They were just so totally engaged in solving the puzzles.”