Krista Syrup brings the same level of enthusiasm for teaching physical geology and earth science classes today as she did when she started at Moraine Valley nearly 20 years ago. That excitement for teaching has led to her being named the 2023 Professor of the Year.

Syrup creates a comfortable environment in her classroom. As a class icebreaker, she has students hypothesize about a person’s height versus their shoe size. Students then measure their shoe size and other people’s shoe sizes and their heights. “They have to talk to their classmates,” Syrup said. “In science, we work in lab groups, and I think students feel more comfortable if they know who they’re working with.”

Syrup understands many students are not science majors and may fear the subject. Some have a misconception they are not good at science. She tries to dispel that thinking by telling them, “Everyone is a scientist. Everyone questions, and that’s what scientists do.” She also believes students may have a misconception about who becomes a scientist, so she shares a photo of herself with geologist friends to show that scientists are different ages, sexes, races, and from different countries. “They might not know that everyone can be a geologist,” she said.

To make science fun, Syrup incorporates many hands-on activities. “I believe students learn by doing, so I want them constantly doing things and discussing with their partner,” she said. She does not emphasize rote memorization; rather, she wants students to understand they must synthesize and have a deeper understanding of what they discuss to do well in her classes.

She shares personal stories from her trips to places with geological importance. For example, she recently went to Hawaii to see the Mauna Loa eruption. “Students enjoy seeing pictures of places I’ve visited. I tell them, ‘Observing the lava flow firsthand – there’s nothing like it,’” Syrup said. She also discusses the alpine glaciation she saw at Rocky Mountain National Park and seeing Mount Rainier up close.

To help students experience in real life what they learn in class, Syrup incorporates field trips to local geological sites into the curriculum. She even got trained to use the college’s vans, so she could transport students who do not have access to a car.

They have visited sites such as the Little Red Schoolhouse’s geologic time exhibit and McClaughrey Springs Woods, where they see a flood plain and a point bar. “They get to see the moraine that our campus is named after. They see the moraine is made up of sediment called till,” she said. They have gone to water treatment plants, such as the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District. “We get to go underground to the deep tunnel, so students can see the size of the tunnel where all the water goes when we have a large storm with too much rainfall. We talk about groundwater in class, so I think it’s educational for them,” Syrup said.

She also has led optional weekend field trips to Starved Rock State Park to see waterfalls and sandstone that was deposited millions of years ago. “I think a lot of students are genuinely interested to go to a place they’ve been to before, but on the field trip, they have me as a guide.”

One of the students who nominated Syrup said, “We all enjoyed her class so much, from the field trips to the interesting labs where she made sure we understood how to get the task done without doing it for us.”

Another student nominator concurred. “She’s an amazing teacher who treats us well. She’s upbeat and extremely passionate about her work. It’s clear she cares about her students, making sure we understand our work while taking time to make it fun for us, especially the various labs we do,” he said.

Syrup was overwhelmed when she learned she had been chosen for this award and was humbled by the comments by her students.

“I was happy to see they enjoyed the class as much as I did,” she said. “I love getting to know students. That’s my favorite part – getting to meet so many interesting, amazing students every semester.”