A Conversation with Faculty Award Winner Professor Timothy Kaar

From Online to Six Feet to Two Awards

Gwen Sihanath, Staff Writer

Professor Timothy Kaar is a professor of videography, cinema studies, and graphic design.

After graduating from Northern Illinois University with a Masters of Fine Arts in Art, he shifted from fine arts to graphic design, specifically for the internet. Like many in the internet profession in the nineties, he taught himself and became a web designer. Professor Kaar began teaching about the internet and later taught video when the internet converged with digital media.

Knowing the hands-on part of it, he didn’t really have a good background in film theory and recently learned from renowned scholars at the University of Chicago, graduating in 2014 with a Masters of Arts in Cinema Studies.

Professor Timothy Kaar, with a teaching career spanning two decades, has been recognized with Elgin Community College’s Orrin G. Thompson Full-Time Teaching Excellence Award. Recipients of this award are automatically put into the running for the Illinois Community College Trustees Association (ICCTA) Outstanding Full-Time Faculty Member Award. 

In my time here at ECC, I am one of the lucky ones to have had Professor Kaar teach the videography and cinema studies classes I’ve attended. This month I had the privilege of interviewing Professor Kaar on his much deserved Orrin G. Thompson and ICCTA awards.

G: So, two awards. The Orrin G. Thompson and the ICCTA award. What was your initial reaction to the award?

T: I was stunned by the state award. Yeah, I mean, when the email came out, I was like, “Are you telling me that I- I’ve been nominated? It looks like you’re confirming my nomination.” Because when you win the Orrin G. Thompson award here at ECC, you’re automatically nominated for the state award.

I emailed back like…you know…exactly what are you telling me? [Laughs]

G: So it was just like that, that you just got the email, like, “Hey, congratulations. You were just awarded.” 

T: Yeah. Yeah. I wasn’t expecting to win it and went downstate.

Professor Tim Kaar speaks with Gwen Sihanath, about his awards on Sept. 22. (Dom Di Palermo)

G: Was there something or, like, a moment in your teaching career that you found most valuable to this award? Like a hardship that you had to do or something this year that kind of showed them.

T: Covid.

G: Covid. And being accessible over the internet, email, phone?

T: Yeah, I think it was because of all the courses that I helped design and instruct that, you know, because of the pandemic we had to take everything online. I mean, this entire department had to go online. A lot of people didn’t have experience with that. So I was in the background helping a lot of people. 

G: Both professors and students? Is that what you’re referring to? 

T: Professors. It’s certainly my own students in the class, but professors just getting them ready to teach online and constructing a core: the stuff that goes to D2L.

G: How did that come to be? Was that something along the lines of putting yourself out there? Like, “Hey, I’ll help a little bit with making it a better transition online,” or how did you get reached out to about this? 

T: I’ve always been active in distanced learning. That’s part of why they [ECC] hired me. It was my internet expertise, but I had worked with a large school. It’s a very well-known school for online education, and I helped put together the first online BFA in the country. So I’ve had, you know, a lot of experience. I’ve been doing 20-some years of teaching online. 

Professor Tim Kaar speaks with Gwen Sihanath, about his awards on Sept. 22.

G: What do you think this award means in your teaching career? Is it something that you see as a stepping stone for your career? 

T: No, not at this point. I mean, I’ve had people, when they found out I was going to retire, suggest I go on and do other things. 

If there’s anything I want to do immediately, I’d like to just do some videography. I’d like to do it for some organizations. Of course, I need to approach them and talk to them first, but, you know, do some community involvement type stuff.

In terms of teaching, what the award- what any of the awards mean, they came my way. And I was surprised by them. They just feel like a nice acclamation of some sort, if that’s the right word. It’s, you know, job well done. And that…that feels good because I worked hard, and I put a lot of work in it. I brought a lot of diverse skills into what it is that I do. 

G: Receiving an award as prestigious as the ICCTA Outstanding Full-Time Faculty Award, is there someone or something that motivated you? Got you feeling bright in the morning? I believe you have like two cats or something.

T: Oh, you mean Bentley. I have just one, Bentley. 

G: Bentley!

T: Bentley is a motivation. And why? Because he usually wakes me up at about five in the morning. [Laughs] Generally, I get up pretty early. I’ll have breakfast, and then I’ll get right to my computer. I used to be a night person, but over the years I’ve found my best work is done in the morning. 

And my stepdaughter just brought a young puppy to help with the older dog, and maybe I’m just the older dog. [Laughs] I like to be around the young puppy because…it helps me be out there and active.

G: You’ve mentioned teaching for 20-some years, what in the classroom gets you to come back every year? 

T: I love teaching. I love working with students.

I love to learn, and I love to share that passion for learning, you know? I want students to discover things about themselves. Yeah, I think that’s a big part of what college is. Students discovering (a) what they’re good at, (b) what they’d like to do. I mean, it’s a real shift from, like, high school to college, because in high school it still is a lot of being told what to do. And there’s a little bit of a tension between us versus them.

It’s like what shifts for them. It’s a “Peter Pan” situation to where all of a sudden Peter Pan realizes, “Oh no, I’m becoming one of them. I am one of them! I’m an adult. I better get with it!” So, then, that’s a big part of being in college.

It’s learning to be autonomously responsible, you know, managing your time. Pursuing your interests. Choosing things and making good choices. That’s all part of a higher education. I like being in that environment. I like engaging with students in that manner. 

Videography professor, Tim Kaar, teaches a videography class on Sept. 22. (Dom Di Palermo)

G: And a hardship you didn’t expect or an obstacle you wish you could be better at? A little odd to mention this question after you had just talked about loving what you do. [Laughs]

T: A challenge that I’ve found about teaching is there were a lot of distractions. A lot of demands on our time that are outside our teaching responsibilities. And one of the things, as I’ve matured as an instructor, is trying to not take on more than what my central focus is. I mean, we’re always asked to do peripheral things. I’ve tried over the years to not be pulled from my primary responsibility to make my students my primary focus. What I’ve always tried to use is my north star to guide me and what’s best for my students.

I always, I always considered that. 

Videography professor, Tim Kaar, teaches a videography class on Sept. 22. (Dom Di Palermo )

G: Well, I guess because you aren’t furthering your work here at ECC, what do you think is next in your career? 

T: That’s the $64,000 question. [Laughs] 

Again, a lot of people have encouraged me to go on and do other things. A challenge about teaching in a community college is about the time I really begin to get to know a student, they’re gone. I get to have students maybe twice. It may be a little late in my career to move to a four-year school, but I would like that experience. I like to be around students for a period of time. A longer period of time to help them develop. But… I don’t know if that’s the next thing. I really don’t.

I kind of look at retirement as kind of being on sabbatical for the rest of my life.

G: This has been a fantastic conversation, Professor Timothy Kaar. Again, congratulations on your two awards. One from here, ECC, and one from the state.

T: My degree from the University of Chicago meant a lot, I mean all up to this point has meant a lot. But that felt like a real accomplishment, and this was unexpected. It’s hard for me to call it an accomplishment because what it is that I accomplished was the quality of the instruction in the classroom. The award is a recognition.

I really genuinely appreciate the recommendation.