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McHenry County College Names Robin Deak as 2021 Faculty Member of the Year

Psychology instructor Robin Deak encourages her students to use what they learn in her classroom to better themselves, improve their confidence, and become self-advocates.

Deak, who has taught at McHenry County College (MCC) since 2003, was recently recognized as MCC’s Full-Time Faculty Member of the Year for 2021. The award recipients, selected by peers, are chosen based on their commitment to teaching, contribution to the college community, and professional development.

Over the course of her 18 years at the College, Deak spent 12 years as an adjunct faculty member and the last six as a full-time instructor. She currently teaches Introduction to Psychology and Human Lifespan Development. During her tenure, she has also taught Child Psychology and Abnormal Psychology.

“It was my dad who originally encouraged me to go to an MCC teaching job fair,” Deak said. “I was still working full-time in social services. When I taught that very first class back in 2003, it clicked. The experience was anxiety-provoking and exciting at the same time. I walked out of the room that first day thinking to myself, "This is what I'm going to do." I quit my previous job at the end of that semester, and the rest is history.”

Since that first day in 2003, Deak has experienced many changes and advancements at the College—from technology and teaching methods to the students themselves.

“When I first started teaching at MCC, I was still using a chalkboard and overhead projector transparencies,” she recalled. “Now, every classroom has amazing technology to assist with teaching, and the internet connections allow teachers to open the world to their students. I've also seen continued diversity within our student population; more diverse students based on age, race, veteran status, gender, academic preparedness, and mental health concerns.”

But while many things have changed over the years, her favorite part about teaching at MCC has remained the ability to make connections with students and seeing them succeed.

“It's such an honor to have worked with so many amazing students over the years,” she said. “Two students in particular stand out to me. Early in my teaching, I had a non-traditional student—a single mom, working two jobs, who took classes when she could. After MCC, she received her Nursing degree from NIU and earned various academic honors. She is currently working as a nurse manager, supervisor, and certified dementia practitioner at Franciscan Care at The Village of Victory Lakes. She said my Lifespan class gave her the foundation towards her work, as so many of her daily interactions and relationships encompass psychology.” 

Another student that sticks out in her mind is one who will graduate with a bachelor’s degree in psychology this spring. The student—who is deaf—has been accepted to graduate school to pursue a master's degree.

“This student’s goal is to use her psychology degrees and experience to help other deaf individuals in our area. There is a huge need for mental health therapy services in general, and even more so for the deaf community. One time in class, although we weren't doing presentations, she asked to present on being deaf. My students were deeply impacted and took away more than just a lecture on sensory capabilities that day.”

Deak’s teaching philosophy centers on the belief that connections go beyond the classroom.

“Taking time to sit and talk, guide and support, attend a student event, and work with students outside my teaching role is as important as in the classroom. It’s this level of involvement and care with students that translates back to the classroom environment where academic work is taught, learned, and applied,” she said. “Especially in these times of uncertainty, teachers must persevere and adapt, embrace technology, and develop an appreciation for the well-being of their students as well as themselves.”

Deak relies on a variety of teaching modes not only to reach students but to get them excited about learning.

“In the classroom, I try to incorporate applied life stories, creative presentations, goal setting, and engaging “questions to ponder” for discussion. It’s this personal application and passion that I believe helps foster critical thinking and motivation in my students,” she said. “I enjoy having students teach various topics and create educational posters, especially regarding mental health awareness. My favorite activity has been inviting my parents to talk to my Lifespan classes at the end of the semester; their stories were living proof of the material in our textbook. My dad had a wonderful sense of humor, and many students told me it was their favorite class."

Her hope is that students develop an appreciation that psychology is everywhere, certainly beyond the textbook.

“I always say there are two things you can control—your attitude and your effort. I encourage my students to be self-advocates, to prioritize self-care, work on self-confidence, and take selfies (just because they’re fun!).”

MCC’s Dean of Social Sciences and Public Services Dawn Katz congratulated Deak on her accomplishments, adding, “Robin is a forward-thinking instructor who advocates for learning by doing, empowering her students to be in the driver’s seat of their own education. She consistently goes above and beyond, contributes innovative ideas, and embodies the qualities of teaching excellence.”

Deak originally earned her Associate in Arts degree from William Rainey Harper College in Palatine, then went on to pursue a Bachelor of Science degree in Psychology from Illinois State University in Bloomington-Normal. She has a Master of Arts degree in Clinical Psychology from Roosevelt University in Chicago.

In addition to teaching, Deak spent six years as MCC’s Adjunct Faculty Development Coordinator and the last four years as the Faculty Development Chair. Both positions involve orienting new faculty and creating professional development opportunities.

She also co-chaired the Social Science Student Club for six years, helping students with college wide presentations, awareness campaigns, and academic transfer information, and has co-mentored the men's basketball team for the last three years, assisting with academic tutoring, life skills, and encouraging self-advocacy.