DePaul’s Finest: Top-rated professors reflect on positive feedback

Winter quarter class registration has opened, and I know the struggle of switching back and forth between the Campus Connect browser and Rate My Professor all too well.

We all want a happy medium — not too lecture-heavy, gives good feedback, quick grader, engaging discussions and so forth. The pressure of academics in student life is excruciating. The pressure to bring forth excellence with leadership in a classroom is arguably just as intense and demanding.

Professors can mold their students’ way of thinking. Similarly, students can shape a professor’s reputation with approving or condemning reviews and evaluations.

With that being said, good reviews are telling. Kathleen Rooney, a professor of creative writing and English, has a rating of five stars.

Rooney credits a few things to her favorable status: surprising material, preparation and atmosphere. Elevated engagement is a common criterion in her reviews and keeping the material interesting plays a large role in this. Additionally, Rooney recognizes the expense of college and the importance of students’ time. She is highly prepared for her classes and fills her hour and a half with a well-thought-out lesson.

She establishes a creative classroom. Adding to this, she mentioned that for all 20 class meetings, she wears a new outfit.

An interesting concept Rooney implements in her classrooms is contract grading. This is a process where students sign a “Contract for an A.”

According to Rooney, “Contract grading does not try to impose objective standards on an intrinsically subjective art, writing, but rather says simply if you try hard and do the work, you cannot help but learn and therefore can receive an A.”

Contract grading takes away a lot of academic pressure and creates an environment where the goal is to learn rather than to pass.

James Mourey, a marketing professor, also has obtained a five-star rating on Rate My Professor. Mourey says passion is what distinguishes his classrooms from others. Similar to Rooney, Mourey is committed to keeping the students entertained with class material. “Students still learn loads of information in my class — more than most classes, actually — but I present the material in a way that is more fun and more engaging.”

Mourey is a first-generation college student. His parents made education a priority in his life. Consequently, education changed his life — and he’s passing that down in each of his lessons. “That’s what I think about every time I go into the classroom: Whose life am I changing through my work?” he said.

In the classroom, Mourey also has a policy that creates a low-pressure environment: He never takes attendance. Students show up because they want to be there. This policy also distinguishes the importance of learning rather than passing.

Mike Avella, another five-star professor, also sees teaching as a way to make a difference. Avella’s passion for teaching hospitality topics stems from his own experience in the restaurant industry. “This is my way of giving back and trying to make a difference — I’m always trying to make a difference to my staff, I’m always trying to make a difference to my customers and I’m always trying to make a difference to my students,” he said.

Through his own business endeavors, Avella is able to establish a classroom that has visible relevance for students’ lives post-graduation. “Everything said in class is pertinent to real-life experiences,” he said.

Being a student for much of his life, he attests, “Everyday there’s an opportunity to learn, both in life and in business.” Having a boring classroom is not a place for that opportunity. Applicability and fun within a classroom keeps engagement — and ratings — high.

Rooney, Mourey and Avella have unique profiles, but they all share “caring” as one of their top qualities on the site. Interesting lectures are great, but a professor that encourages success and cares about educational progress is what distinguishes the good professors from the finest professors.