'They're Always Pushing Me to Be Better': How Chad Risko's Students Make Him a 'Great Teacher'

By Jenny Wells-HosleySteve Shaffer and Kody Kiser

LEXINGTON, Ky. (June 28, 2021) — Six of the University of Kentucky’s passionate and accomplished educators were surprised earlier this spring by student nominators and the UK Alumni Association as 2021 Great Teacher Award recipients.

One of those recipients is Chad Risko, associate professor of chemistry in the UK College of Arts and Sciences and faculty director of the office of undergraduate research. 

"Teaching for me is, in part, because I've been influenced by teachers. I'm here because I've had people that have taken time to share with me information, and their insights, and their wisdom," said Risko, who teaches materials chemistry through computational modeling. "I think there's just something rewarding with being able to pass on little bits of knowledge that you can to students, and watch them grow and flourish as they make their way through a course or make their way through years in the discipline."

In turn, Risko says his students also teach him.

"Some of my favorite things are just to sit and find those few minutes to talk to students — not necessarily about the course material, but where they're from, and what inspires them to come and to learn," he said. "Science in itself is a creative endeavor. Whether you're studying it or you're doing research, it comes down to problem solving. And there are many different ways to solve problems. (My students) may see problems in very different ways. And you see a lot of solutions that are just incredibly creative, from their standpoint. And that, I think, is really exciting when you see students bring something new. They're always pushing me to do more and to be better, so I'm better prepared as an instructor."

Learn more about why this UK Alumni Association 2021 "Great Teacher" loves connecting with students to help them achieve what's wildly possible both in their future careers and in life in the video above.

Risko is just one of the 2021 UK Alumni Association Great Teacher award winners. This summer, UKNow will highlight each of these Great Teachers. Watch their stories here.

"This award is a really fantastic way to recognize the faculty and the lecturers across campus, and it shows that the Alumni Association values what happens in these walls," Risko said. "And so a huge thanks goes to them, not only for me, but for recognizing the value of the teaching that goes on here at UK."

Initiated in 1961, UK’s Great Teacher Award is the longest-running UK award recognizing teaching. In order to receive the award, educators must first be nominated by a student. The UK Alumni Association Great Teacher Award Committee, in cooperation with the student organization Omicron Delta Kappa, then makes the final selection. Recipients receive an engraved plaque and stipend.

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