Excellence in Teaching: Kara Morgan-Short 

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Kara Morgan-Short

Kara Morgan-Short, associate professor of Hispanic linguistics and psychology. Photo: Roberta Dupuis-Devlin

Each year, UIC honors some of its most dedicated and outstanding teachers with the Award for Excellence in Teaching. The winners, who receive a $5,000 salary increase, are selected by past recipients of the award from nominations made by departments and colleges.

Years at UIC: 12

What does it mean to win the Excellence in Teaching Award?

The Excellence in Teaching Award is the greatest honor that I have received. It means so much to me because it is for my work with UIC students. It is a thrill to be a part of the path of my students’ lives and to be recognized for my efforts to help students move towards their own goals is really meaningful to me.

What do you teach?

I teach undergraduate and graduate courses in Spanish linguistics and in Psychology. My courses range from “Spanish Grammar in Practice” to “Second Language Teaching” to “Statistical Methods in Behavioral Science” to a graduate “Seminar in Cognitive Psychology.”

How do you engage students in your courses?

Two principles guide my teaching and how I engage students in class. First, I try to understand my students’ motivation for taking a particular class and work to make the class relevant to their interests and goals. I also try to create assignments that are useful to students. For example, in my “Second Language Teaching” course, I have students write a teaching philosophy statement as an assignment, which is something that they are likely to be asked for when they are being interviewed for teaching jobs. Second, in class, I do my best to engage students in activities and discussion in class. Students prepare materials before coming to class, and then we work together in class to apply that knowledge or explore it. For example, we might have a debate in class or draw out a representation of a complex topic that we are learning. In smaller, higher-level classes, we develop experiments about language in class and collect data in and out of class to test our hypothesis.

What do you enjoy most about teaching at UIC?

What I enjoy most about teaching at UIC are the students. They come to class with a passion and dedication that I have not seen at other universities. I really am motivated by my students and consider it a real honor to be able to serve them and challenge them as they move along their academic and life path. Also, they are so fun!

What are your research interests? 

I am interested in understanding how we learn new languages. It seems to be especially hard to learn a new language when you are an adult, but research shows that we really are still capable of learning languages even as adults. I look at performance on language tasks and measures of brain activity to understand who is able to learn languages well and what we can do to help those who struggle with language to learn it more easily. There are so many benefits to being bilingual or multilingual that we want everyone to be able to develop multilingual abilities.

What is your advice to students who just graduated Dec. 15?

I often tell students that you do not have to have your life figured out by the time you graduate from college, and if for some reason, your first plan for after college does not work out, that is fine. I did not start down my path to being a professor until I was 29 years old. So, have a plan. Go after it with all you have. But know that there really are many exciting paths that you can take if the first plan does not work.