Photo of Pam Geddes in a white shirt with wooden cube shelves in the background.

Friday, April 22, 2022

Northeastern Illinois University has selected Co-Associate Chair and Professor of Biology Pam Geddes as the 2022 recipient of the Audrey Reynolds Distinguished Teaching Award.

Professor Emerita of Linguistics Audrey Reynolds established the award to be given annually to a tenured member of the Northeastern faculty who best demonstrates distinguished teaching. Geddes will receive $5,000 and make a presentation regarding excellence in teaching in Fall 2022. 

“I strongly believe in the importance and transformative power of mentoring,” Geddes said. “As a first-generation, immigrant student myself, I experienced the support, mentoring and encouragement of many people along the way and I would not be where I am today without their support. I hope I can be one of those teachers that can make a difference in students’ lives.”

Geddes, who’s originally from Argentina, has been teaching at Northeastern for 13 years. She feels teaching at Northeastern is a unique experience because of the wide range of backgrounds of the University’s students.

“The impetus behind my passion for teaching students at NEIU specifically has always been the tremendous potential for success that our students have, and the transformative power we as educators can have in the process,” Geddes said. “Because of their backgrounds, many of our students feel they are not deserving of success or many of the opportunities we have to offer, or that they do not belong in science. I try very hard to change that.”

Geddes is an alumna of the Linton-Poodry Society for the Advancement of Chicanos and Native Americans in Science Leadership Institute and considers herself to be an “anti-racist in training.” As a white Latina woman in science, she feels she’s been privileged to have the constant support of mentors and entities that believed in her and is committed to providing opportunities to the next generation. She’s been part of several federally funded projects at Northeastern with the intent of increasing the participation, retention and success of underrepresented students in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education. As such, she’s seen the burden of success some students feel.

“Many students come to a class with the perceived notion that they need to immediately excel in a new class—meaning they have to get an “A”—or they feel they are a failure,” Geddes said. “But classes are meant to provide new, sometimes difficult or very technical knowledge, as well as challenge ways of thinking. Therefore, normalizing failure and learning from those failures or mistakes should be a priority in the classroom. Students should know that learning, just like any other activity, requires work and that teachers will not only be welcoming failures and mistakes, but they will also provide the support needed to safely navigate this sometimes uncomfortable process.” 

Of this year’s nominees, the Reynolds Award Committee selected two finalists after careful consideration of nomination letters submitted by colleagues and other members of the University community.

The finalists demonstrated evidence of excellence in teaching, and in each of the dossiers the committee found evidence of innovation, high standards and a positive impact on students at the University. After careful review, the committee recommended Geddes as this year’s recipient of the award, which will be formally presented at the Faculty Institute. 

Geddes credits her colleagues and students with her award win because aside from nominating her and providing letters of support, she feels they allowed her to grow as an educator by challenging her in important discussions and were a source of inspiration and education for her own methods of teaching. 

“I feel honored to have been awarded the Audrey Reynolds Distinguished Teaching award,” Geddes said. “Although the award has been given to faculty in other STEM departments in the past, it’s the first time a teacher from the Department of Biology has earned this award. I can’t thank Dr. Reynolds enough for her generosity and constant push for excellence in teaching.”