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UIC History welcomes its first Davee Scholar: Victor Leal-Painter

Victor Leal-Painter

Victor Leal-Painter, class of ’25, fell in love with history early.  As a young child, he would watch documentaries on TV and absorb all the information he could.  He especially loved ancient Egypt and the paleolithic period.

A decade-and-a-half later, they remain his first love.

Leal-Painter not only became enamored with history at an early age, he also fell in love with teaching it.  “I liked to tell other people the things I had learned on the documentaries, so I would talk to anybody who would listen,” Leal-Painter said.  “It interested me, and I thought it would interest other people, too.”

Now, thanks to the generosity of the newly established Davee Scholars program in the Department of History, Leal-Painter is well on his way, currently a freshman majoring in History and the Teaching of History.

Leal-Painter is the Department of History’s first recipient of the newly established Davee Foundation Scholarship for high-achieving History and English undergraduates.  The award, established in 2019 and named after Adeline Barry Davee and Ruth Dunbar Davee, reflects the benefactors’ generosity and love for the disciplines of History and English.  Each of those Departments awards one Davee scholarship a year.  Winners receive the full cost of attendance at UIC until graduation for up to five years and must maintain at least a 3.0 GPA.

For Leal-Painter, learning he had been named a Davee Scholar, which is determined by the Department among incoming History students, was above all a huge relief.  “The first thing I did was call my father,” Leal-Painter said, remembering back to when he first learned he had won. “Now I could finally focus on education,” he added.  “Usually, a student has two things in their head when they think of college: studying and figuring out how to pay for it.”

Leal-Painter had planned to work his way through UIC, contributing to funds from his father and some smaller scholarships he had won.  Nevertheless, it wouldn’t be enough.  “I was still going to have to take out loans,” he said.

When he heard the news from College of Liberal Arts and Sciences Dean Astrida Orle Tantillo that he was to be a Davee Scholar, he couldn’t believe the news.  “I was so relieved that now I could focus entirely on my education.”

Becoming a teacher has always been in the cards for Leal-Painter.  His early love of history was nurtured by several great teachers.  He fondly recalls his sixth-grade social studies teacher, Mr. Maciasz, who first formally taught him world history.  “Being in his class got me really interested in history as a subject and that’s when I realized: that’s what I was meant to do, teach history.”  Leal-Painter still snaps his fingers recalling that moment of revelation.

While a student at Evergreen Park High School in the south suburbs, Leal-Painter was lucky enough to encounter another excellent teacher who inspired him.  “Mr. Nesler made me realize I wanted to teach high school history,” Leal-Painter says.  “He introduced me to a lot of the big books in the field,” specifically recalling Jared Diamond’s Guns, Germs, & Steel.  Nesler taught Leal-Painter all his high school history classes.

And it was Nesler who recommended that Leal-Painter continue his studies at UIC.  “He thought the department was good, and the Teaching of History program was especially good,” Leal-Painter said, referring to the Teaching of History program’s excellent pedigree at placing high school history teachers all over Chicagoland and beyond.  The program currently has about 100 majors in it, which constitutes just under half the total majors in the Department.

A natural teacher, Leal-Painter still lives at home and commutes to UIC, primarily so he can coach high school soccer at his alma mater.  “It’s always something I wanted to do,” he said, of his part-time gig as an assistant coach for the varsity team at Evergreen Park.  What he loves most, naturally, is the teaching.  “It’s amazing to watch them improve,” he said, “and then you think: ‘I taught them that!’”