Erika Rakas describes herself as an extrovert who will self-elect to give a speech whenever the occasion arises.
“I haven’t stopped talking since I began to talk,” she said. “I’ve never been the shy one.”
While a freshman at Eastern Illinois University, Rakas was interested in the psychology of learning and took an Introduction to Communications class to discover more about how people learn. She loved the class so much that her professor became her mentor and she switched majors to communications.
“That professor changed the trajectory of my career,” she said. “I realized that I wanted to be a college professor and do exactly what she was doing – teaching people how to communicate more effectively.”
Rakas earned both her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Speech Communications and Communication Studies from EIU. As a graduate student, she worked as a teaching assistant, where she observed how professors put together lectures.
Her first job interview was for an adjunct position at Aurora University, which she found somewhat terrifying.
“I had never interviewed before a search committee, and at that time Aurora was very selective with adjuncts, plus I didn’t have a Ph.D.,” she said. “They offered me one course, and slowly as the course went on, I began to be myself in the classroom. Once I let out my enthusiasm, I saw a genuine connection with the students.”
In 2011, Rakas also became an adjunct at College of DuPage, where for the past two years she has held the position of lecturer. She incorporates service learning into her classes and currently is working with her Speech colleagues to develop a video promoting the value of effective communication skills. She also believes in the idea of creating a connected classroom.
“I tell my students that I want to inspire them on the first day, that inspiration allows for growth, and that I will work hard throughout the semester, challenging them and inviting them in on opportunities to grow and become inspired. This is what a connected classroom is, one where students are comfortable in their discomfort of vulnerability. This is where growth takes place.”
In 2016, Rakas was named College of DuPage’s Overall Outstanding Part-Time Faculty Member. She knows a Ph.D. is in her future and will focus on the psychology of education.
Rakas feels like she was meant to teach and that it’s part of her core, and she loves doing so at College of DuPage.
“There’s something very real about this school that I love,” she said. “The students here have an eagerness to learn, and their ability to open up and respect one another validates my passion for teaching. The more diverse the classroom, the more impressed I am with their vulnerability, and the more connected we become.
“I once heard that what keeps you up at night defines your life’s purpose. I know my role in life is to teach, but ultimately my purpose is to inspire. Finding ways to impact my students is what keeps me up at night and what allows me to approach each class with an authentic enthusiasm for what we will uncover throughout the semester. No discipline can exist without communication, so it is through this discipline I find the most opportunities to inspire my students.”