Campus honors 2019 TA Award winners

Fifteen graduate students at the University of Wisconsin–Madison have been honored with 2019 Campus-Wide Teaching Assistant Awards.

UW–Madison employs over 2,100 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 at a reception on Thursday, Feb. 13 from 3:30-5 pm in 911 Van Vleck Hall, 480 Lincoln Dr.

The winners of the 2019 Campus-Wide TA Awards are:

Capstone PhD Teaching Award:

  • Aaron Yarmel, Philosophy
  • Emily Loney, English
  • Niwaeli Kimambo, Geography
  • Anna Oltman, Political Science
  • Michael Toole, Asian Languages and Cultures

Exceptional Service Award:

  • Erica Kanesaka Kalnay, English
  • Melody Sain, Botany
  • Stepha Velednitsky, Geography

Innovation in Teaching Award:

  • Emily Shetler, School of Journalism and Mass Communication
  • Melody Waring, School of Social Work
  • Sarah Gamalinda, French & Italian

Early Excellence in Teaching Award:

  • Erik Katovich, Agricultural and Applied Economics
  • Jules Reynolds, Geography and Environment and Resources
  • Minseon Park, Economics
  • Alleta Maier, Physics

Read below for more about this year’s awardees.

Capstone PhD Teaching Award

Aaron Yarmel

Aaron YarmelAaron is a PhD candidate in Philosophy where he focuses on applied ethics and political philosophy. He has lectured the courses Contemporary Moral Issues, Ethics in Business, and The Ethics of Resistance and Revolution.

Aaron likens philosophy classrooms to small communities that present a difficult social puzzle. “They are places where people who disagree about emotionally charged, controversial issues must communicate effectively with one another, where dramatically different communication styles, goals, and needs must be coordinated in the pursuit of complex tasks, and where fundamental commitments are challenged in the search for the truth,” he says. “I am motivated to build a safe and nurturing classroom environment in which my students can grow in their ability to navigate these puzzles.”

Emily Loney

Emily LoneyEmily is a PhD candidate in the Department of English specializing in early modern literature and focusing on gender and sexuality studies, book history, and material cultures. In addition to being in her third semester as outreach program coordinator for the UW–Madison Writing Center, Emily has taught first-year composition and an upper-level course on the early works of Shakespeare. She has also served as a teaching assistant leading discussion sections for the English department including the early British literature survey course, a course on Shakespeare, and a course called Beowulf, Tolkien, and Modern Fantasy.

“I want students to become actively engaged in the classroom, sharing their curiosity and learning from their classmates, creating an inclusive space in which we can all reflect on how literature helps us understand our own world better,” Emily says. “I love helping students feel confident as writers and thinkers who are comfortable sharing their insights and learning from each other.”

Niwaeli Kimambo

Niwaeli KimamboNiwaeli is a PhD student in Geography studying land-use change in areas of high biodiversity value in East Africa. She uses satellite images to detect the conversion of rural lands to woodlots and looks for the socioeconomic explanations for these changes. As a teaching assistant, she particularly enjoys teaching the courses Introduction to the Earth System and Global Warming: Science and Impacts.

“I enjoy introducing students to climate change science and earth systems concepts because they draw from many different disciplines,” Niwaeli says. “To understand global warming science, you have to work through a bit of physics and chemistry, while to learn about climate change impacts you must understand issues of social equity and public policy. I like how a single geography course can cover such interdisciplinary content in one semester.”

Anna Oltman

Anna OltmanAnna is a PhD student in Political Science specializing in international relations, human rights, and foreign policy. As a TA, she has taught the courses Conflict Resolution, American Foreign Policy, Comparative Foreign Policy, and Terrorism. She has lectured the courses International Institutions and World Order, Human Rights in Law and Society, and Introduction to International Relations. Her favorite thing about teaching is engaging in dialogue with students.

“The most productive lessons I have taught include considerable back-and-forth among students and with myself. I think dialogue is so crucial to teaching because it helps both teachers and students to identify the specific roadblocks to an individual’s learning, whether it’s a particular concept, set of facts, or method in which the material has been delivered. In addition, dialogue is fun!” Anna says. “I am passionate about teaching and learning, and class discussion is often fascinating and educative for me as well.”

Michael Toole

Michael TooleMichael is a PhD candidate in Japanese specializing in literature and visual culture. His dissertation explores how authors and artists negotiated normalcy in representations of the body and sexuality in early modern Japanese visual culture. Michael has taught a variety of Japanese language classes, spanning First-Semester Japanese to Advanced Japanese Reading 1. He has also taught courses in English on topics in Japanese culture, such as Manga and the Japanese Body.

“In the language classroom, I enjoy seeing students progress in their linguistic competency. On the first day of [class] students learn to say ‘Good afternoon,’ whereas in more advanced classes students are able to state their opinions on maternity leave policies. Being part of that process of creating a new identity in Japanese, and seeing students achieve their own voice, is something I always enjoy,” Michael says. “In culture classes, working with students to develop tools for understanding and analyzing cultural texts is always satisfying.”

Exceptional Service Award

Erica Kanesaka Kalnay

Erica Kanesaka KalnayErica is a PhD student in English specializing in children’s literature and culture and transpacific Asian American studies. Her dissertation traces the transnational circulation of racial affects through children’s books and toys. She has taught courses in Asian American studies, literature, and composition at UW–Madison, and she especially enjoys teaching professor Leslie Bow’s class Asian American Literary and Popular Culture: Race, Fantasy, Futures.

“I love discussing the politics of play and pleasure with students to together explore the impact of the small and everyday,” Erica says. “In my teaching, I draw from women of color feminist pedagogies and feminist disability pedagogies to emphasize accessibility, non-hierarchical relationships, and cultivating networks of care.”

Melody Sain

Melody SainMelody is a PhD student in Botany. Her research interest is in the evolution of plant sexual systems, especially the evolution and genetic underpinning of flowering plant sex determination. At UW–Madison, she has taught an introductory biology lab course and a survey of botany lab course. She has also taught three semesters of Botany 400: Plant Systematics Lab.

“My motivation as a teacher is rooted in service and inspiring the next generation of brilliant minds, because through service we can reach those that may not know the many possibilities that await them,” Melody says. “This motivation is also why I enjoy teaching because I get to meet and mentor a wide range of students and colleagues whom I also get to learn from, which is one of the many rewards I receive from teaching.”

Stepha Velednitsky

Stepha VelednitskyStepha is a PhD student in the Department of Geography specializing in political geography. Her research focuses on Israel/Palestine, post-Soviet migration, and gendered labor. Stepha has taught introductory courses in International Studies and Urban Geography.

“Classrooms can be important spaces for grappling with issues of justice,” Stepha says. “I’ve experienced firsthand how influential teachers can be in helping students develop their understandings of the world, and I strive to live that out in my own teaching. I’m motivated not only by my mentors, but also by the passion, curiosity, and humor of my wonderful students.”

Innovation in Teaching Award

Emily Shetler

Emily ShetlerEmily is a master’s student in the School of Journalism and Mass Communication specializing in longform journalism and creative non-fiction. It will be her second graduate degree from UW; in 2019, she received an MFA in creative writing with a concentration in fiction. Emily has taught English courses including Introduction to College Composition, Introduction to Creative Writing, and the Intermediate Fiction Workshop for creative writing majors. She also taught Directed Creative Writing in which she individually directed graduating seniors in writing a fiction manuscript, either a short story collection or novel draft. In this class, she enjoyed working with students to hone in on elements of the craft and watch their writing skills grow.

Her favorite multimodal technique is teaching students to draw and share comics, encouraging vulnerability and community-building in a low-stakes environment. “I am always looking for new ways to encourage students to access their own stories through writing,” Emily says. “Many different kinds of learners respond to storytelling as a way to organize ideas and express multifaceted concepts. I love when students connect story structure to essay structure, learning how narratives can reinforce organization of ideas and build arguments. Sharing stories from their lives also forges personal connections in the classroom and links student work to larger issues of identity and culture.”

Melody Waring

Melody WaringMelody is a PhD student in the Social Welfare program at the School of Social Work. Her dissertation looks at the intersection of caregiving and employment, and the public policy implications that arise. She has taught courses on the social work field, statistics for social work, and Social Work with Ethnic and Racial Groups, and in spring 2020 is teaching a course on Research Methods for Social Work. Melody enjoys seeing students take an abstract concept through to its real-life application. She says she also learns from these moments, as students’ experiences and perspectives make concepts she has worked with for years become deeper and more complex.

“Since my teaching is in the School of Social Work, I believe the work of writing – of taking the unspoken and making it clear – prepares students to go into the field as advocates for social change,” Melody says. “I feel poignantly the honor and responsibility of helping to shape a generation of social workers who will take up the fight for a better society. And the joy of being part of that keeps me going!”

Sarah Gamalinda

Sarah GamalindaSarah is a PhD student in the Department of French & Italian studying representations of race and racialization in 20th-century French and francophone literature and cinema. She has taught introductory French courses and co-taught an advanced course on creative writing in French. As a teacher, Sarah enjoys the moments where students and teachers agree that learning and teaching have to be joint efforts.

“Sometimes we can perceive this moment of agreement to be more of a transactional expectation about institutional learning, but I know that it motivates me because the experience still holds so much potential for empathy,” Sarah says. “I can get totally jazzed despite the banality of the moment because I know that it’s founded on respect and gratitude: we see each other and recognize the efforts and energies that each person is willing to contribute and upon which we’re all dependent if we want to move towards whatever it is we’ve decided is a reasonable goal. I love that.”

Early Excellence in Teaching Award

Erik Katovich

Erik KatovichErik is a PhD student in Agricultural and Applied Economics studying development economics, with a research focus on the political economy of natural resource governance. He studies how oil booms affect public finances, and how local politicians and interest groups influence deforestation in Brazil. He has taught the course The Growth and Development of Nations in the Global Economy. His passion for teaching about development economics comes from his own experiences as a student who sought out economics classes as a way to understand how to fix problems such as poverty, hunger, and inequality – yet was often frustrated that the classes never went beyond models and equations.

“In my teaching, I therefore tried to connect abstract economic ideas to real-world challenges. I encouraged students to critique the models we were learning and to think critically about big questions. I know many of my students came into the class passionate about understanding and solving global development challenges. I wanted to empower them with analytical tools and encourage them to keep thinking about these issues,” Erik says. “If students took one thing away from the class, I hope it was the ability to be more critical, thoughtful global citizens.”

Jules Reynolds

Jules ReynoldsJules is a joint PhD student in the Department of Geography in the College of Letters & Science and Environment and Resources at the Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies. She researches the political ecology of agriculture and climate change. Jules has taught the courses Introduction to Agroecology, Environmental Conservation, and People, Land, and Food.

“I love finding those points of connection between the student, the course material, and myself to create meaningful moments of learning in the classroom,” Jules says. “Whether this shows up as sharing personal experiences about conservation or food, or admitting together that discussing the politics of climate change can be intellectually or emotionally challenging – these moments of connection on a particular idea or assignment motivate me throughout the semester to create the community and environment to open up to these connections.”

Minseon Park

Minseon ParkMinseon is a PhD student in Economics interested in labor economics, the economics of education, and urban economics. She has taught intermediate microeconomics theory at the undergraduate level and mathematical economics at the graduate level. As a teacher, Minseon has found inspiration in her students and how they have helped her to better herself as well.

“Even though being a responsible TA required me to be very considerate, hard-working, and dedicated, it also has been a great chance for me to learn; learn the material I taught in a deeper way, learn how to articulate my argument, learn how to interact with audiences,” Minseon says. “I was motivated in this process of ‘learning together’ with my students who generously understood my clumsiness and helped me to improve.”

Alleta Maier

Alleta MaierAlleta is a Physics PhD student who is passionate about equity in physics and empowering minoritized students to see themselves as physicists. “I teach the introductory classes for non-majors which pose a really beautiful challenge of starting with students that think they will hate the class,” Alleta says. “When a student that came into my classroom thinking they would hate every minute of the class comes to me to tell me they’ve actually started to love physics (or at least hate it a little less) that’s when I feel most accomplished and driven to keep doing this work.”

“Additionally, I’ve had a number of students express that they’d never met a genderqueer person before my class and that having me as a TA has really opened up opportunities for learning about and de-stigmatizing trans identities and that my framing of the classroom has allowed them to feel more empowered than science classrooms they’ve had in the past,” Alleta adds. “We all create this beautiful learning environment where the students are not only learning about physical understandings of their worlds but also we’re all engaging in talks about the social structures that govern our worlds.”