Faculty Stories: Itri Papanikolla

Faculty Stories: Itri Papanikolla

Program: Continuing Education/High School Equivalency/ICAPS

Itri Papanikolla grew up in Greece, and he struggled with academics while in high school.

“This was mainly because our teachers were not properly trained to teach us the right way,” he said. “My family and I moved to the United States when I was 20 years old. During and after college, which included College of DuPage, I wanted to make a difference to the same group of struggling students that I was once part of, and so I started tutoring mathematics and science as soon as I graduated.”

Papanikolla now teaches math and science at a private high school. He is certified to teach all levels of math, chemistry and physics, and he works as a professional tutor for the ACT, SAT, GRE and GMAT. He also continues his private tutoring. 

“I grew up in a family of teachers, scientists and artists,” he said. “My father always preached the idea of the Renaissance man. We are all multilingual in our family. I speak fluent Albanian, Greek and English. When I was in high school, I won a gold medal in National Math Olympiad in Greece. It is then that I thought it must be math, and what better way than teaching it, just like the Renaissance man did, to expand your talents and allow others to become even better than their master. So I started the journey, and it has been an amazing one.”

The High School Equivalency program (GED/HSE) at College of DuPage drew Papanikolla’s attention. He was also intrigued by the Integrated Career and Academic Preparation System (ICAPS) program, in which students can work on their GED while earning a COD certificate in information technology or welding.

“Teaching at College of DuPage has been the most rewarding part of my career,” he said. “Our students amaze me every day. I was a student here at COD when I didn’t even know how to speak English, so it has come full circle now giving back to the community that has helped me so much.”

Papanikolla hopes that students take away all the foundational skills from his classes. In return, he is inspired by his students.

“The most important part of the classes Adult Education offers is the basic math, science and language skills,” he said. “Without those foundations, there will be no success in future college-level classes. I also hope that I can inspire them to be better and reach their maximum potential.

“For a teacher it is very easy to find inspiration. We don’t work in a cubical in front of a computer, but in a classroom in front of students. My white board is my canvas, and we create every single day. For me, it is the struggling student of Adult Ed that inspires me every day. They are the impossible that becomes possible. Failure is not an option for them. They need the high school equivalency to survive in this world, to get a job, to pay their bills and to raise their families. If that does not inspire you, then what does? My students know that I will do anything for them.”

More about the High School Equivalency program

More about the ICAPS program