UW–Madison announces 2018 Teaching Assistant Award winners

Fifteen graduate students at the University of Wisconsin–Madison have been selected as recipients of the 2018 Campus-Wide Teaching Assistant Awards.

UW–Madison employs over 2,000 teaching assistants (TAs) across a wide range of disciplines where they are an integral part of the Wisconsin Experience. Their contributions to the classroom, lab, and field are essential to the university’s educational mission. To recognize the excellence of TAs across campus, the Graduate School supports the College of Letters & Science in administering these awards.

Honorees will receive their awards and celebrate with family and friends in a reception on Thursday, March 7 from 3-4 pm in 911 Van Vleck Hall, 480 Lincoln Dr.

The Graduate School congratulates the winners of the 2018 Campus-Wide TA Awards:

Early Excellence in Teaching Award:

  • Alexandra Lakind, Environment and Resources, Curriculum and Instruction
  • Rebecca Mandich, African Cultural Studies
  • Andrew McWard, Political Science
  • Morgan Sanger, Geological Engineering

Exceptional Service Award:

  • Adrian Fraser, Physics
  • Abigail Letak, Sociology
  • Soumya Sankar, Mathematics

Innovation in Teaching Award:

  • Joe Orovecz, Counseling Psychology
  • Naomi Salmon, English
  • Changyue Song, Industrial Engineering

Capstone PhD Teaching Award:

  • Christine Evans, German
  • Di Fang, Mathematics
  • James McDaniel, Botany
  • Allison Murrow, Curriculum and Instruction
  • Adalbert Gerald Soosai Raj, Computer Sciences, Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis

Read below for more about this year’s awardees.


Alexandra LakindAlexandra Lakind

Alexandra studies environmental education, arts programming, and childhood studies in the Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies and the Department of Curriculum and Instruction. She has taught Green Screen: Environmental Perspectives through Film, as well as Practicum in Early Childhood Education in Kindergarten.

Alexandra’s motivation as a teacher draws on her past experiences as a student.

“The need I had for more engaging learning environments that attend to a greater diversity of learning styles has continued to energize me as an educator,” she said. “As a TA, I enjoyed being able to connect with students as we pushed each other to explore the complexities and nuances in our worlds.”

Rebecca MandichRebecca Mandich

Rebecca earned her master’s degree in African Cultural Studies in December 2018 with a focus on pedagogy, specifically how technology and game-based learning can optimize world language education. As a graduate student, she taught first semester Swahili. In the classroom, she aims to foster learning environments where students are excited about coming to class and feel empowered in their unique skills to create positive change in the world.

“It is important to me as an instructor to understand what the goals of my students are and to create meaningful curriculum where they can both learn the content knowledge and explore their individual interests,” Rebecca said. “I love teaching language because it is an opportunity for me to help learners to understand both themselves and others at a deep level and to meaningfully communicate their personal experiences within the framework of another language and culture.”

Andrew McWardAndrew McWard

Andrew is a PhD student in the Political Science department, specializing in international relations with a focus on international institutions and organizations. He has taught Introduction to International Relations and Nuclear Weapons and World Politics.

In teaching, Andrew draws on his experience as an undergraduate at a small liberal arts college, where he had meaningful discussions in the classroom and at office hours that helped motivate him as a student. “Despite UW–Madison’s large size, I believe a similar learning environment can be provided to individuals here,” Andrew said. “In my own teaching, I strive to bring the same focus to my discussion sections and personal interactions with my students.”

Morgan SangerMorgan Sanger

Morgan studies geotechnical engineering in the Department of Geological Engineering. Her research focuses on the chemistry of recycled concrete aggregate leachate, which is liquid that has extracted some substances from a material. She has taught Soil Mechanics and Problem Solving Using Computer Tools.

“I enjoy the challenge and learning opportunity presented in teaching,” Morgan said. “As individuals, my students challenge me to consider the same concept from many different perspectives, to communicate in different ways, to be adaptable and persistent. Their questions inspire new curiosities and refresh my interest in familiar concepts.”



Adrian FraserAdrian Fraser

Adrian is a PhD student in the Physics department, where he studies turbulence in plasmas, the superhot gasses found in stars. He has taught the intermediate introductory physics courses for science and math majors, Physics 207 and 208.

As a teacher, he enjoys having the opportunity to remind himself of physics fundamentals by practicing new ways to help students understand them. Teaching is also an opportunity for him to pay forward the benefits he’s experienced from having dedicated teachers.

“At a place like UW-Madison, where we teach many of the engineers and scientists of tomorrow, good teaching is something that needs to be taken seriously. Dedicated students choose to enroll here because they feel they will be given a thorough education, and we need to live up to that,” Adrian said.

Abigail LetakAbigail Letak

Abigail is a student in the Sociology department, studying culture with regard to media, mental health and wellness, and identity. She has taught Survey of Sociology, and introductory courses in Community & Environmental Sociology and Social Psychology.

In teaching, she loves watching students break down the mental boundary between real life and the classroom.

“I love seeing students apply concepts they’ve learned in the classroom to their daily lives, helping them to better understand themselves and the world around them,” Abigail said. “I believe this kind of connection is crucial for meaningful learning; it not only helps students grow as scholars, but as citizens and human beings. It’s such a joy to be able to foster and observe that process!”

Soumya SankarSoumya Sankar

Soumya is a fourth-year graduate student in the Mathematics department, specializing in number theory. She has taught various single- and multi-variable calculus and precalculus courses.

“Teaching has been an integral part of my life as a graduate student,” Soumya said. “Among the most important aspects of teaching for me has been to motivate my students to learn math. I always try to find ways to convey my excitement and fascination for math to my students, in a way that helps relate to the subject and engage with it at a deeper level.”



Joe OroveczJoe Orovecz

Joe is a PhD candidate in the Department of Counseling Psychology. He focuses on crisis and suicide prevention and intervention as well as LGBTQ+ issues, and has taught a variety of courses, including Human Sexuality, Supervised Internship in Counseling, Diagnosis and Treatment Planning for Counselors, and Italian 101. He also developed and taught a Psychology of Suicide course.

“What I enjoy most about teaching is seeing how a course can be transformative for students,” Joe said. “Sometimes that transformation is as simple as a student gaining a new perspective. Other times it’s as profound as a course being healing for a student. There’s something very special about the change that can happen for students and the broader community through learning, and I cherish being a part of that change.”

Naomi SalmonNaomi Salmon

Naomi is a final-stage PhD candidate in English Literary Studies. Her dissertation explores how to incorporate theories of active learning and participatory culture into methods of teaching Victorian literary texts. She has facilitated discussion sessions for detective fiction, modern American literature, and a range of literature courses, but her favorite course to teach is Introduction to College Composition. She loves learning about students’ interests and helping them communicate with wider audiences through revision-based writing projects.

In the past year, Naomi worked as the Open Educational Resources (OER) teaching assistant for Letters and Science Learning Support Services, a role that allowed her to collaborate with instructors throughout UW who were composing or adapting open-access, interactive textbooks. She especially enjoys working with instructors and teaching assistants who would like to bring their students into the process of producing and sharing knowledge.

Changyue SongChangyue Song

Changyue is a PhD student in Industrial Engineering, specializing in big data analytics for system improvement. He constructs statistical models for systems and processes that detect faults, predict failures, and find the best way to improve efficiency. This work requires integrating statistics, optimization, and engineering knowledge. He has taught Fundamentals of Industrial Data Analytics.

Changyue is motivated as a teacher to share the relatively new area of data analytics with students and help them gain skills in this high-demand field. He believes that more student involvement will help the field develop.

“During teaching, I enjoy the smiling face of the student when a puzzle is solved,” he said. “I am happy for the students when their efforts pay off and they learn more knowledge from the course.”



Christine EvansChristine Evans

Christine Evans is a PhD student studying contemporary German. Her research examines nonstandard syntactic structures in spoken German as part of addressing questions about language variation and change. She has taught a variety of German language courses spanning the introductory and intermediate levels.

“My goal as a teacher is to facilitate students’ growth as engaged citizens and lifelong learners,” she said. “I love exploring the relationships between language and culture with my students and creating space for them to build personal connections with course material and each other.”

Di FangDi Fang

Di is a PhD candidate in the Department of Mathematics. Her research interest lies broadly in numerical computation and analysis of applied problems, including quantum systems, biological models, and stochastic differential equations.

Di has been a teaching assistant for various math courses, including calculus classes. Her teaching philosophy is to make math fun and approachable. Some math topics can be formidable due to their seemingly complicated appearance; Di loves to inspire her students with motivations, and illustrate math concepts and formulas in ways that are interesting and relevant to real life. Nothing makes her happier than seeing her students having fun with math and, at the same time, learning.

James McDanielJames McDaniel

James is a PhD student in the Botany Department, specializing in the molecular systematics of orchids that grow in the Andean Cloud Forests. He has taught General Botany and Plant Morphology & Evolution.

“I enjoy seeing students grow and mature intellectually throughout the course of any given semester,” James said. “It is extremely motivating when I am able to help students cure plant blindness. In fact, I often find myself receiving feedback from them such as: ‘I was out identifying oaks, elms, and birches over the weekend and my roommates now think I’m crazy, but thanks for opening my eyes to the realm of plants, James’.”

Allison MurrowAllison Murrow

Allison is a fourth-year PhD student in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction with a literacy focus. Her research interests are in the mitigation of classroom anxiety for teachers and students. Allison has instructed a number of classes for prospective elementary and middle school teachers in content areas and English as a second language including The Teaching of Reading and Writing, Dimensions of Literacy, and The Teaching of Reading. She has served as a fieldwork supervisor for practicum and student teachers. She has also taught several semesters of Integrating the Teaching of Reading and Language Arts for students in several departments and served as a TA for the Internationalizing Education course.

“Focusing on the students provides motivation and inspiration to instruct and facilitate courses,” she said. “I love working to transform classes of students into communities of learners; good communication and The Golden Rule are at the heart of that work. I enjoy collaborating with students and being transparent about my practices. I am dedicated to the process of learning, not just the products that come from it. I find it helpful to stop and think not what the students know and learn, but how they feel about what they’re learning. I aspire to support inquisitive communities of care where everyone feels valued and welcome.”

Adalbert Gerald Soosai RajAdalbert Gerald Soosai Raj

Adalbert Gerald is a PhD student in Computer Sciences and Education, with a focus on making computer science education accessible and relevant to everyone. He has taught a variety of computer sciences classes, including programming classes on modern C++, Python, Java, and machine organization and programming. He has also taught Intro to Operating Systems and Teaching Computer Science to K-12 Students.

Gerald is motivated as a teacher by the satisfaction he gets after a well-taught class in which he was able to engage and inspire his students. He enjoys having students come back to him after taking an introductory course and tell him that they declared a computer sciences major after taking the course. “The thought that I can never tell where my influence stops as a teacher, inspires me every day,” he said.