Our Mission

The Academic Center for Excellence provides learning support services to enable all UIC students to accomplish their academic goals by developing critical thinking skills and learning strategies that will enhance their academic success.

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The Team

Meet the people who make our mission happen.

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Geoff Thames / PhD Director

Geoff is the Director for the Academic Center for Excellence (ACE) at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC).  He oversees the general operation of ACE, in addition to the Office of Testing Services.

Geoff’s interests in student learning and development led him to pursue his PhD in Educational Psychology at the University of Arizona.  His research interests include instructional design, music, program evaluation, learning theory, and the application of theory to practice in student support services.

In his spare time, Geoff enjoys playing the guitar, cycling, and enjoying the outdoors with his family.


Bahar Baniasad  /   M.A., College Teacher

Bahar Baniasad has been an instructor and academic advisor in the Academic Center for Excellence (ACE), at the University of Illinois-Chicago (UIC) since 2012. She has a Bachelor’s of Art in Foreign Language and Translation and a Master’s degree in Linguistics from the University of Westminster, UK. Bahar teaches Academic Skills Program (ASP) courses in ASP 060: Studying/Learning across Disciplines, ASP 095: Academic and Professional Writing, and ASP 092: Vocabulary Enrichment to undergraduate and graduate students. Her other responsibilities include facilitating various workshops focusing on academic skill development and meeting with students individually to assist them in time management, critical reading, writing and general study skills. Bahar is the liaison between ACE and the UIC Athletic Department. To this end, she works with the UIC Athletic Department to coordinate workshops, individual student coaching, and consultations for UIC student athletes. Her passion for student success and development has been especially nurtured while working closely with students in UIC.

In her free time, Bahar loves exploring the city of Chicago by attending concerts and cultural events, as well as, traveling, reading and spending time with her family, their dog, Oliver, and pet parakeet, Duchess. Bahar is also fluent in Farsi.

Jon Mann   /   M.A., College Teacher

Jon Mann has worked as an Instructor and Academic Counselor at ACE since January 2012. He conducts Academic Skills Program (ASP) courses on study strategies and skills (ASP 062) and critical reading, thinking, and writing (ASP 090) for undergraduate and graduate students; the Academic Achievement Program for students on academic probation; and the College Reading for Success program for incoming freshmen during Summer College. Jon also provides presentations, workshops, and one-on-one student counseling that address academic skills ranging from time management to exam preparation and test-taking. He especially enjoys working with international students and visiting scholars on their English communication skills and supporting them in their writing and presentation efforts.

For fun and relaxation, Jon travels abroad with his wife and daughter, plays with his dog Jack, and watches professional sports and movies. He and his wife also enjoy hosting parties for his international students and attending their graduation ceremonies each May.


Jose De Leon   /   M.A., College Teacher

Jose de Leon has been teaching and working at ACE since 2003.  For the last twelve years he has gained an invaluable amount of experience and know-how that have been the result of working with UIC student from all across campus. His areas of expertise include teaching college level reading and writing courses for students who are interested in developing strong literacy skills. After more than a decade of teaching experience, he has developed a learning module called the Reading Matrix designed to help students combine their reading and literacy skills with their critical faculties and analytical thinking skills. In addition, he teaches ESL classes for students who are non-native speakers of the English language. Working with ESL students to help them develop advanced English communication skills has been a rich and rewarding experience and has helped to broaden his appreciation for the value of cultural diversity. He also conducts workshops that cover both time management and study skills and works with students individually who require personal academic coaching. He also teaches vocabulary classes where students can learn up to as many as 200 words within an eight-week time span.

When Jose is not teaching or coaching students, he likes to spend his time exploring nature, practicing yoga and meditation, and listening to music and reading books.


Audrey Zenner   /   M.A. College Teacher

English as a Second Language educator

Audrey Zenner has taught English as a second language for over thirty years to students from a multitude of lands. As a second language learner herself, (Spanish & German) she easily relates to the language learning progression of her students. She holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Education/Language Arts/Spanish and Master’s Degree in Linguistics/TESOL. She has worked as an instructor/advisor in the Academic Center for Excellence (ACE) at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) since 2008. Prior to that, she taught at several different community colleges throughout the Chicago suburbs.

Her area of specialization is academic writing for international students. In fact,upon the urging of her UIC students, she published, Precise American Writing (2013), the textbook used in her course, ASP 095, Academic Writing for International Graduate Students. In addition, she instructs students in ASP 055,Communication Skills for International Graduate Students, whereby providing instruction and practice in formal/informal English language usage in the context of intercultural learning. She is the advisor for the UIC Chinese Student & Scholarship Association (CSSA); facilitates ACE workshops and writes the ACE Study Tip of the Week. Audrey holds esteemed gratification in helping studentssucceed in life and loves dedicating herself to the work she has chosen.

During her free time, she enjoys traveling; especially to international sites. At home, a perennial garden is center stage of her backyard. In addition, her quest for knowledge is satisfied by reading non-fiction on various topics. Growing up and residing in the Chicago area her entire life has instilled a deep appreciation for beautiful Lake Michigan as the backdrop for the Chicago skyline.


2017_ACE_Headshots_Group-7Rahman S. Ali/ Administrative Assistant

Rahman Ali has been at UIC since May of 1994 in various clerical administrative roles.  He loves working with faculty, students and staff. He says he’s met and worked with many people from different backgrounds and cultures. He finds that these interactions help to foster a better understanding of people in general, and supports UIC’s mission of diversity.  When Rahman isn’t working he loves vacationing with family and friends, spending time reading about historical facts watching history programs on television. Time with family is most important to Rahman!