Faculty Stories: Andrea Polites

Andrea Polites

Program: Human Services

Teaching allows Andrea Polites to wear several hats.

"In addition to being an instructor, I am also a leader and a mentor," she said. "Through teaching, I bring the real world into the classroom and go beyond facts in textbooks by sharing my experience and knowledge. My passion fuels their interest and fosters change. I enjoy encouraging and supporting students as they move along their academic journey, and I want my students to be inquisitive about the world around them." 

Before pursuing social work, Polites worked in public accounting as a CEO, where she came into contact with people from around the world.

"I worked with clients who were either of a different race, ethnicity, religion or socioeconomic status, and I had to deal with cultural barriers associated with international commerce," she said.

But she was drawn to social work and then teaching because of her interest in people and the desire to make a difference. Polites discovered a broad range of opportunities in the human services field, such as working with individuals, families and communities; in a variety of roles from therapist to administrator; and in a variety of settings, from government and research to education. After switching careers, she worked at Family Shelter Service as the clinical director and children's services coordinator.

As a teacher, Polites draws upon all of her experiences, and her personal teaching philosophy is evolving as she gains experience.

"I am committed to providing a learning environment that is both exciting and challenging - one that empowers both me and my students to participate in the learning process," she said. "I believe effective learning occurs in a collaborative and interactive milieu. The concepts associated with the classes I teach cannot be mastered successfully only through lectures and reading. I consider class discussion to be a critical component. Therefore, I intentionally structure my classes to include group work, discussion and student participation in learning. In this way, students can explore their varying perspectives and develop a deeper understanding of the concepts presented. 

"As an educator, it is my responsibility to create and sustain a classroom which promotes analytical thinking and critical problem solving skills. Complicating this is the fact that each student is unique and brings varying knowledge bases and cultures together with different levels of maturity, interest and motivation. As a social worker, I value the importance of acknowledging and appreciating these differences. I strive to create a classroom community founded on relationships among all of the participants. As a result, students develop a sense of responsibility toward their own learning experience, as well as those of their classmates."

Her goal is for her students to believe that if they work hard enough and persevere, they can and will achieve. Polites wants to inspire critical thinking skills and empower students to explore who they are and who they might become.

"I come from a culture of ethnicity. My parents were both first-generation Greek. During my early childhood, my parents and I lived with my grandparents, and until the age of 3, I only spoke Greek," she said. "Later, when my parents moved from Chicago to the northwest suburbs, I had to adapt and deal with people who were not as aware of their ethnic backgrounds.

"From the first day of class, I make a concerted effort to learn who each student is and to honor their lives and perspectives. I make every effort to be approachable. While I recognize that I have the expertise from which my students may benefit, I welcome and openly encourage feedback. My passion to teach is driven by my love for what I do, and I am continually striving to improve how I teach."

More about the Human Services program