Fueling students’ hunger for learning

Katherine Noll

“They can learn it from the textbook, but they have to want to,” says Katherine Noll. “My job as professor is to get them to want to.” Photo: Roberta Dupuis-Devlin/UIC Photo Services

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.

Katherine Noll still remembers that second-grade recess when she picked up a geography textbook and read about Eskimos and Egyptians — people very different from those living in her small town tucked in the mountains of northern Pennsylvania.

“From then on, I was really hungry to learn about people that were different from me,” says Noll, whose career includes more than 45 years of teaching, research and practice in psychology.

“Coming here, with this incredible diversity of students, I have loved it. There are names from every place in the world.”

Noll, lecturer in psychology in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, wins her second Silver Circle since arriving at UIC in 2007. She says making the course material exciting and relevant is key to her teaching.

“They can learn it from the textbook, but they have to want to,” she says. “My job as professor is to get them to want to.”

Noll credits her nurturing teaching style for building a strong connection with students. “I want the world to be a better place when I leave it than when I came into it. Where better to start than with students?” she says.  “I care about them and let them know. I try to reason with them and try not to be punitive.”

In more than two decades of experience as a licensed clinical psychologist, she has seen just about everything.

“When I work with patients I try to get inside their head and figure out what it’s like to be in there,” Noll explains. “Working with students and patients can be similar.”

She has taught six different courses at UIC, but abnormal psychology is her favorite.

“That is the thing I know better than anything else,” she says. “Name a disorder and I’ll give you a whole course on it.”

Noll and her husband Gary, a fellow UIC psychology lecturer and three-time Silver Circle winner, are retiring in May.

She looks forward to traveling, spending time with her grandchildren and ongoing volunteer activities with her church and the Northern Illinois Food Bank.