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Waubonsee Professor Heather LaCost Selected As Outstanding Faculty 2014

Dr. Heather LaCost works with students using the college's BioPac equipment, which is used to measure and display brain wave activity.

Not many instructors have completed a class session as water slowly floods their classroom.

And others perhaps might not be willing to stand, pregnant, in front of a college class, just days before the birth of a child, as students look on intently, concentrating on a lecture as they worry their instructor’s water might break at any moment.

Yet, Dr. Heather LaCost, Associate Professor of Psychology at Waubonsee Community College, has not only taught through such challenges, but has excelled across more than a decade of instruction.

For this excellence, LaCost, of Geneva, has been recognized as Waubonsee’s 2014 Outstanding Faculty Member.

“Like many of her colleagues, Dr. LaCost possesses the characteristics of being an excellent instructor, a devoted advocate of student activities and a vibrant contributor to our college community,” said Dr. William Marzano, Assistant Vice President of Transfer and Developmental Education, and Dean for Social Sciences, Education and World Languages at Waubonsee.

LaCost, 42, has taught at Waubonsee since 2000, coming to the college after adjunct teaching stints at both North Central College in Naperville and McHenry County College.

Through that time, LaCost said her love of teaching has not dimmed, but intensified.

“I like coming here to teach, every day,” LaCost said. “It’s a job I’m excited to get to do.”

She noted that, at times, the act of teaching has not necessarily been fun. She recalled the day she was administering a test in a basement classroom at North Central when water accumulated about 1-2 inches on the floor.

And she recounted the day she was approaching the delivery of her first child, yet reported to work and taught a class.

“My students were asking, ‘Are you sure it’s safe for you to be here?’” she said with a laugh. “They were looking at me like I was bomb about to go off.”

But while she enjoys teaching, in general, LaCost said the chance to teach psychology is what she particularly enjoys.

Since coming to Waubonsee, LaCost said she has worked to introduce more of the scientific method into classroom instruction, an effort that has included leading the task of obtaining a grant to purchase specialized BioPac equipment to measure brain waves and provide students with a visual example of how the brain’s activity can change as human activity and states of consciousness change.

While such technology has proven helpful, it has also created unforeseen learning opportunities, for students and instructor alike.

During one particularly trying time of teaching, she attempted to coax the BioPac machine into demonstrating the difference in brainwaves between a person’s alert and more relaxed states.

“But when I hooked everything up to my student volunteers, there was no change in the readout between the states, as there should have been,” LaCost said. “It was only after I applied scientific reasoning that I uncovered the problem. I had been asking students if they’d had a good night’s sleep the evening before, when I should have been asking, ‘How many hours did you sleep?’

“It turned out that they had slept only 4-5 hours the night before class, and their brains were entering the first stage of sleep while they were still awake in my class!”

But beyond the chance to engage in such classroom demonstrations and share laughs with students, LaCost said she simply enjoys watching as the psychology topics she teaches opens the eyes of her students daily.

“So many of my students tell me how psychology relates directly to their lives, in how they study, relate to their coworkers and friends, or even how they train their dog,” she said.

To encourage continued learning outside the classroom, LaCost also serves as a faculty advisor to the Psi Beta Honor Society and Psychology Club at Waubonsee.

That dedication has been met with affection from students, a number of whom have continued to keep in touch with LaCost, long after they have left Waubonsee.

“Many of them are out in the field, working in the profession,” she said. “It’s really rewarding and gratifying, and it makes me feel old.”


 

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