By FRED KRONER
Chris Warren started at Parkland College in the fall of 1990 as a student-athlete, but the Mahomet-Seymour graduate wasn’t sure he was cut out for college.
More than a quarter of a century later, Warren is an award-winning member of the Parkland College faculty.
He can’t imagine himself anywhere else.
“It was destiny,” Warren said. “I’ve taught high school P.E., coached college basketball for a decade, but teaching is the most rewarding and the best fit for my family.”
He recently learned he is the 2018 recipient of the Parkland Teaching Excellence Award. He will be recognized at the school’s graduation ceremony in May.
Warren envisioned a different pathway as a teenager when he earned All-Area accolades as an athlete for the Bulldogs.
“I’d have said I’d be a lifer in basketball,” Warren said.
He had more confidence that he could prove himself on the court than he did about proving himself in the classroom.
“A lot of kids out of high school are uncertain whether they can meet the academic rigors and be successful,” Warren said.
“I got lucky. My first exam, I got an ‘A’ and it gave me confidence. Over the years, I shifted my focus from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset.”
Warren played basketball for two years at Parkland and then continued his career at the suburban Chicago community of River Forest, playing two more years at Concordia University.
He remains thankful for the start he got in college.
“I came to Parkland because it was local and they recruited me to play basketball,” Warren said.
“I didn’t realize it would be the best thing for me personally.
“It gave me the foundation to be successful. The teachers are committed to what they did.”
Warren is now one of those teachers. He is an associate professor at Parkland and the program director for the kinesiology department.
The person who originally said, “I wasn’t sure college was a good fit for me,” has now earned multiple degrees.
He was a double major at Concordia, where he focused on business administration and exercise physiology. He earned his master’s degree from the University of Illinois in exercise physiology.
Warren didn’t develop a disdain for basketball, just what was becoming a requirement to remain successful in the sport.
“Years ago, basketball was seasonal and you had time to spend with family,” Warren said. “There was a seismic shift 10 or 15 years ago.
“AAU blew that up for me. It went from one week with AAU (in the summer) to within two or three years, you needed to be in Indy one week, then Tennessee, then Las Vegas. Recruiting took up a significant amount of time and it’s hard to manage with three children.”
He had success in basketball. When he took over as the Cobras’ head coach for the 2001-02 season, he was the school’s third head coach in three seasons and there had not been a winning record at Parkland in men’s basketball for six seasons.
Warren guided the school to a 20-win season in 2002-03 and to an overall record of 112-108 in his seven seasons at the helm.
And yet, it wasn’t a difficult transition to teaching solely within a classroom setting.
“It’s easy to do when you love your subject matter,” Warren said, “but I had to re-invent myself after finishing coaching.”
The committee that chose Warren for the Parkland teaching award took note of how he creates a fun and engaging classroom.
That’s by design, he said.
“I don’t think of myself as a traditional teacher,” he said. “My environment is more relaxed than most.
“When something doesn’t sit well (with students), they have the freedom to argue with me. Rather than me lecturing for 50 minutes, which can be hard to follow, they are participating and not just listening. My lectures give students the opportunity to ask questions.”
During Warren’s time with the kinesiology program, he has expanded the curriculum from one college transfer pathway to four.
That’s only one of the major changes.
“What makes us competitive nationally is the hands-on experience,” Warren said. “Rather than lecture the theoretical, I like to make it real-world. They get to see what it looks like.
“I take my first-year students through a national certification personal training program. They do clinicals, work under previous grads and help them do a program design for student-athletes.”
Twice a week, Parkland athletes train with students from the kinesiology program. It’s part of the Certified Personal Fitness Training Program.
“It’s a win-win,” Warren said. “Our athletes get the best training techniques in the world and the kinesiology students jump into the fire.”
Warren finds himself in demand as a speaker at regional and national conferences. If he’s not part of the program, he’s part of the audience.
“You’ve got to stay fresh,” he said. “That’s what I enjoy most. Our research and knowledge almost seems to change daily.”
Warren doesn’t follow a syllabus that each year remains identical to the previous year.
“Technology has made it easier to teach, but also very different,” he said. “After a while, you question yourself: Am I providing the best learning experience for the students?
“Then I try to make it happen.”
The results speak for themselves. Parkland students, Warren said, are “getting the best internships in the country and doing very well at four-year institutions.”
Warren has been employed at Parkland College for 16 years.
“I love my job,” he said, “and it doesn’t feel like work. I’m sharing with students about a subject matter I truly love.”
Warren said there’s a reason there are so many long-time teachers at Parkland.
“Once you get a job, you tend not to leave,” he said. “It’s such a good environment.
“I get to travel and learn from the best in the industry and then come back and share it with the students.”