2020 TA Award winners honored for excellence in teaching and instructional continuity

Outstanding graduate students at the University of Wisconsin–Madison have been selected as recipients of the 2020 Campus-Wide Teaching Assistant Awards for excellence in teaching and instructional continuity during the COVID-19 pandemic.

UW–Madison employs over 2,100 teaching assistants (TAs) across a wide range of disciplines. 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 (L&S) in administering these awards.

This year, the TA Awards included a new award category recognizing graduate students in L&S who provided exceptional continuity of instruction support to their department or delivered exceptional student experience in a remote instructional setting during the COVID-19 pandemic.

A second new award, the Dorothy Powelson Teaching Assistant Award, recognizes outstanding performance by a TA in the natural sciences.

The winners of the 2020 Campus-Wide TA Awards are:

Early Excellence in Teaching Award:

  • Merve Sarac, Educational Psychology
  • Kennia Coronado, Political Science
  • Elisa Avila, Community and Environmental Sociology
  • Patricia Chan, Botany
  • Kaitlin Moore, English

Exceptional Service Award:

  • Alan Lee, Anthropology
  • Anthony Flynn, Counseling Psychology
  • Katharine Scott, Psychology
  • Ruby Bafu, Sociology

Innovation in Teaching Award:

  • Joshua Tabor, Electrical and Computer Engineering
  • Andrew Thomas, English

Capstone PhD Teaching Award:

  • Franklin Hobbs, Materials Science and Engineering
  • Sujeong Shim, Political Science
  • Yingtong Xie, Economics
  • Jason Nolen, Sociology

The Dorothy Powelson Teaching Assistant Award:

  • Andrew Maza, Chemistry

L&S Continuity of Instruction Award:

  • Felipe Moraga, Spanish & Portuguese
  • Sami Lamine, African Cultural Studies
  • Michael Mays, Statistics
  • Kaden Paulson-Smith, Political Science
  • Hyejin Jenny Yeon, Mathematics
  • Olga Kiseleva, Economics
  • Amie Goblirsch, Classical and Ancient Near Eastern Studies
  • Lindsey Meekhof, Music
  • Iason Giagtzoglou, Music
  • Ming Che, Botany
  • Sarah “Frankie” Frank, Sociology and the Center for Law, Society & Justice
  • Xerxes Minocher, Journalism and Mass Communication
  • Xiangyun (Esther) Tang, Educational Psychology
  • Elizabeth Premo, Social Work
  • Gage Bonner, Physics
  • Gloria Morales Osorio, Spanish & Portuguese
  • Maggie Hughes, French and Italian
  • Jun Wang, Asian Languages and Cultures

Read below for more about this year’s awardees.

Early Excellence in Teaching Award:

Merve Sarac

Merve SaracMerve is a PhD student in Educational Psychology specializing in quantitative methods with a research focus on statistical modeling of aberrant response behavior in high stakes testing for providing valid and fair interpretations of test scores. Merve has taught the advanced quantitative courses Test Construction, Factor Analysis, Multidimensional Scaling, and Cluster Analysis.

“My teaching philosophy adopts culturally affirmative pedagogical methods to help students from different cultures integrate into the classroom more naturally,” Merve said. “I encourage my students to think critically about the data analytic methods I teach and the contexts in which these methods are applied. I enjoy how students find unique opportunities to capitalize on the course content to creatively adapt what they have learned to their independent research projects. I find teaching rewarding when students effectively use the subject matter terminology to articulate and answer their research questions.”

Kennia Coronado

Kennia CoronadoKennia is a PhD candidate in the Department of Political Science studying American politics with a research focus on race and ethnicity, political communications, and elections. Her dissertation investigates the processes and mechanisms under which Latinxs are mobilized to participate in U.S. elections. She has taught the courses Politics in Multi-Cultural Societies and Introduction to American Government.

“In my teaching, I encouraged students to think critically about how race, ethnicity, gender, class, and citizenship operated in their own lives,” Kennia said. “This required me to foster a learning environment where students from different backgrounds felt comfortable sharing their experiences and worldview as they related to core concepts within the course. This opportunity enabled us to have challenging conversations and learn from each other in community. I felt most accomplished when students, especially those from underrepresented backgrounds, expressed that they, too, could envision themselves as a political scientist.”

Elisa Avila

Elisa AvilaElisa is a PhD student in Community and Environmental Sociology focused on place, environmental justice, and race. Her past work centered on regional patterns of racial exclusion. Currently, she is working on how communities that experience environmental justice issues develop local knowledge and practices to mitigate risk. As a TA, she has taught Introduction to Community and Environmental Sociology.

“My teaching philosophy focuses on compassion and accountability through thoughtful communication,” Elisa said. “My goal is to keep communication open and clear, helping students find a sustainable path to meet their goals. I believe it is crucial to encourage and support students’ intellectual curiosity, while building an appreciation of seeking new perspectives. Opening the classroom to curiosity and dialogue allows the classroom to be a medium for processing both readings and the real-life challenges students face. I believe encouraging intellectual curiosity and compassion in the classroom helps students develop a strong foundation for their future roles in civil society.”

Patricia Chan

Patricia ChanPatricia is a PhD student in Botany. Her current research explores the drivers of plant diversification, focusing on the ecological dynamics that shape plant evolution and geographical distribution.

Patricia has taught labs for an array of botany courses including General Botany, General Ecology, and Plant Systematics. Patty has also taught Introductory Biology, leading a case-study driven classroom.

“My teaching philosophy centers on cultivating an environment that invokes students’ curiosity and fosters connections to their personal passions,” she said. “I try to challenge myself to interpret class material creatively, tying intangible concepts from plant biology into the phenomena we observe in our daily lives. I strive to create spaces that are accessible to students of all educational and cultural backgrounds; by encouraging a diversity of perspectives, we can readily bounce off each other’s inquiries and enthusiasm. I strongly believe that the communities we build in the classroom prove invaluable to all of us, beyond the scope of our courses.”

Kaitlin Moore

Kaitlin MooreKaitlin Moore is a PhD student in English working within the environmental humanities and planetary modernisms and a Kohler Fellow at the Wisconsin Institute for Discovery. Their interdisciplinary work focuses on the exchanges between poetics and cosmology, with particular emphasis placed on using astrophysics and quantum mechanics as inquiries into literatures that span deep time and deep space. They have taught two semesters of English 100: Introduction to Composition and have TA’d two semesters of English 153: Literature and the Environment.

“Being an instructor during the pandemic has roused me to reconsider my priorities as an educator,” Kaitlin said. “I have tried to facilitate a reciprocal exchange of scholarly resources while fostering a virtual classroom that emphasizes compassion. The topics of the classes I have taught stress the significance of stewardship: the responsible use and protection of the natural environment as well as the continuity of care towards our communities, our peers, and ourselves. This past year has reaffirmed my commitment to the ethic of service and tolerance in education, and the resiliency, patience, and kindness of my students have shown me the importance of extending grace and centering well-being during times of crisis.”

Exceptional Service Award:

Alan Lee

Alan LeeAlan Lee is a dissertator in the Department of Anthropology who studies the archaeology of blacksmithing and iron working in Early Historic South Asia (approx. 500 BCE). His research will combine chemical, material, and image analysis to understand how ancient blacksmiths performed and developed their craft during this pivotal period in South Asian history.

Alan has taught six different courses over 10 semesters in both the chemistry and anthropology departments, has helped conduct multiple international educational workshops on experimental iron smelting, and is a volunteer with the University of Wisconsin Missing in Action Recovery and Identification Project (UW-MIARIP) team whose mission is to repatriate MIA American service members back to their families in the United States.

His teaching philosophy is to bring the energy and spirit to the classroom that encourages students to believe in their own abilities and to embrace any challenge.

Anthony Flynn

Anthony is a PhD student in Counseling Psychology specializing in foundational skills of helping relationships and social determinants of physical and mental health disparities. He has taught Counseling Psychology courses on Clinical Communication, Psychopathology, and Theory and Practice in Interviewing. His teaching philosophy centers on fostering spaces of vulnerability, critical self-reflection, and liberation through caring teaching relationships and experiential learning.

Katharine Scott

Katharine ScottKatharine is a PhD candidate in the Department of Psychology studying social and developmental psychology. She has taught courses on Social Development, the Development of Social Categorization, and Graduate Statistics for Psychology. As a teacher, she centers her philosophy around two primary goals: encouraging students to develop independence of thought rather than to accept information at face value, and striving to create an environment where every student feels a sense of belonging in a collective learning community.

“My primary goal in teaching is to help students develop a sense of agency in their own learning experience. Although I have the tremendous privilege to teach students for a semester, or sometimes more, ultimately the biggest impact I can have is not from dictating content, but instead from teaching students how to be inquisitive and critical beyond the scope of a particular course,” Katharine said. “As my students develop independence, they also are able to push me to teach new content and explore new areas of research. The depth of engagement that I achieve with my students is only possible because I craft an environment in which students feel a sense of belonging. To create a collaborative learning environment, I show my students that I am not there to teach at them, but that we are there to learn together. Additionally, I believe it is critically important to help students feel a sense of belonging regardless of their background. Together, my teaching experiences have solidified my passion for fostering independence and my belief that all students can succeed when instructors create a community in which students are challenged and supported.”

Ruby Bafu

Ruby BafuRuby is a PhD student in Sociology with broad research interests in race, gender, and education. Her research analyzes media framings of Black girls and Black women’s responses to Black girls’ experiences. She uses Black Feminist Discourse Analysis to analyze news articles published in Madison, Wisconsin, and center the standpoints of Black women and girls. Ruby also leans on Black Feminist theory and her positionality as a Black woman who once was a Black girl to celebrate the livelihood of Black girls who are usually described in a deficit-based orientation in education research.

When she isn’t analyzing news articles Ruby enjoys teaching courses such as Methods of Sociological Inquiry where undergraduate students learn how to do social science research. As a teaching assistant, Ruby cultivates a positive learning environment by centering the lived experiences of her students to ensure that they feel affirmed and seen in the classroom. Her teaching philosophy is that students learn best when they feel connected to the curriculum and have their material needs met. In addition to teaching, Ruby performs exceptional service in the UW-Madison community through her work with Black and Southeast Asian children as Books and Breakfast Coordinator at Freedom Inc., involvement in Dear Diary’s Black Girl Mentoring Program, and leadership as president of the Black Graduate and Professional Student Association.

Innovation in Teaching Award:

Joshua Tabor

Joshua TaborJoshua is pursuing his PhD in Electrical Engineering with a focus on mobile sensing and robots. He is currently developing a small-scale testbed for autonomous vehicles using RC cars that have smaller, cheaper versions of all the sensors full-sized autonomous vehicles use. Joshua said the scale of this testbed allows researchers to study autonomous driving in a lab setting instead of outfitting their own fleets of full-sized vehicles, and they hope to use the system to teach engineering and computer science students about autonomous vehicles.

As an instructor, he has taught three semesters of the computer science course on Foundations of Mobile Systems, and five semesters of the engineering course Introduction to Robotics.

“As an engineer, I like to pose teaching as an engineering problem: what can I do to maximize the amount of robotics material students learn in a semester?” Joshua said. “As I answer student questions, part of me always wonders if their problems are just something they missed, or if there is some bigger, systemic problem with the class. Some of the systemic issues have needed innovative solutions, like developing programs to help students automatically debug their robotics hardware. I also enjoy creating demos of interesting robotics tools or methodologies so students can develop an intuitive understanding of the most up-to-date ideas in the field of robotics. The most rewarding part of being a TA every semester is seeing how the students use their new robotics knowledge to create their own robots in their semester projects.”

Andrew Thomas

Andrew ThomasAndrew is a PhD student in English specializing in American studies and Afro-Asian cultural production. His dissertation theorizes how the historical nineteenth-century U.S. Civil War became abstracted as a transnational and transhistorical concept in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. While having taught a number of literature survey courses, you’ll usually find him teaching graphic memoir (a fancy term for comics) and research-based argumentation in the freshmen writing classroom.

“I am most interested in seeing students develop a playful curiosity towards any subject matter that I teach,” Andrew said. “Because the temptation for complacent mental habits is all too real, I see my role as an instructor to be two-fold: first, to show students how to engage in meaningful, informed, and difficult conversation and question-asking with me and their peers; and second, to show students that writing about and discussing the unfamiliar or unknown can be an exciting foundation for personal growth and social awareness. I’ve been able to do this particularly successfully in my composition classes where students are tasked with designing graphic memoirs based on an aspect of their social identity. The seemingly ‘easy’ medium of comics opens up a range of unexpected possibilities for students, a process I always love seeing.”

Capstone PhD Teaching Award:

Franklin Hobbs

Franklin HobbsFranklin is a PhD student in Materials Science and Engineering whose research is the crossover between materials science and geoscience. His specialty is in mineralogy and crystal chemistry, with a focus on dynamic non-equilibrium growth processes for magnesium-bearing carbonates. He has taught the Materials Science labs of MSE 260, MSE 360, and MSE 361. Additionally, he helped redesign and taught the Materials Science class for non-materials engineers (MSE3 50).

“Instructors should strive to teach students where they are,” Franklin said. “Every student has a different starting point and background. As instructors, we are responsible for making content accessible to everyone.”

Sujeong Shim

Sujeong ShimSujeong is a PhD candidate in Political Science studying international political economy and international organizations. She has taught courses on International Relations, International Development and Cooperation, International Political Economy, and Terrorism. As a teacher, Sujeong believes the purpose of political science education is to equip students with tools to critically analyze information and to nurture global citizenship. She uses three pillars to inform her teaching, guiding students to master core concepts and theories, practice analyzing the empirical world, and build cross-cultural understanding.

“I find it most gratifying to watch former students grow into informed and reflective global citizens,” Sujeong said.

Yingtong Xie

Yingtong XieYingtong is a PhD student in Economics specializing in macroeconomics, household finance, and financial economics. As a TA, she has taught undergraduate-level courses on the Principles of Macroeconomics and Intermediate Macroeconomics, as well as a graduate-level Macroeconomics course.

“The focus of my teaching philosophy has always been to educate students with economic intuition and to think like an economist,” Yingtong said. “I like to build students’ understandings of the course materials on the logic behind each model and how we connect them with real-world applications. I am also especially passionate about encouraging female students to take more economics courses.”

Jason Nolen

Jason NolenJason is a PhD student in Sociology whose areas of specialization include gender, race, and conversation analysis. He has lectured and TA’d many courses at UW–Madison, and his favorites are those that directly focus on a specific feature of social injustice, including sociology of race, sociology of gender, and criminology. In the classroom, Jason believes in leading with honesty and vulnerability.

“As someone from a background far removed from the academy and the middle-class culture of which it is a part, I know what it’s like to feel alienated and excluded in a university setting,” Jason said. “It’s one of my central goals in the classroom to openly address the exclusionary and discriminatory aspects of academia and to create as inclusive and equitable a learning environment as I possibly can.”

Outside the classroom, Jason takes photographs for the @cats_of_madison and @dogs.of.madison Instagram accounts.

The Dorothy Powelson Teaching Assistant Award:

Andrew Maza

Andrew is a PhD student in the Department of Chemistry.

L&S Continuity of Instruction Award:

Felipe Moraga

Felipe Moraga is a dissertator that specializes in early modern Spanish literature (ca. sixteenth and seventeenth centuries) and has PhD minors in Art History and Medieval Studies. He has taught in-person and online literature courses as well as Spanish language classes all the way from elementary to advanced levels. His current research focuses on visual and literary studies of monsters, automatons, and emblems in literary works and news pamphlets from the medieval and early modern periods. He also holds a certificate in online teaching and has taken many courses on teaching in the disciplines of education, methodology and curriculum and instruction.

“I am passionate about sharing the history, language, and literatures of Spain and Latin America and I love to see my students connect it with their own backgrounds and life experiences,” Felipe said. “Moving to an online modality has provided me with the chance to use innovative digital techniques and course design to foster a class that encourages interaction through online and gamified apps that our students enjoy, such as Pear Deck, Canva, Edpuzzle, Pixton, and Quizizz. It is important to me to create a meaningful classroom in which students can learn content in a communicative way, and apply this knowledge to their everyday lives. Fostering a fun and inclusive online environment enables students to be more confident and entertained, allowing more participation, collaboration and stronger student interactions.”

Sami Lamine

Sami LamineSami Lamine is a Tunisian PhD candidate who is working in the Department of African Cultural Studies at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, and an award-winning educator, dedicated to close mentorship and his students’ transformation into lifelong learners.

At UW, Sami taught courses in Arabic language and literature, African literature, and had his own course in the summer of 2020 about comics and graphic novels in Africa. He also taught at different summer programs in Beloit and Madison and continues to teach literature courses.

Sami holds a bachelor’s degree in English Literature, Linguistics, and Civilization, from the Faculty of Letters and Human Sciences, Sousse. He also holds a master’s degree in African Languages and Literature from the University of Wisconsin–Madison. Sami has a minor in the Transdisciplinary Study of Visual Cultures.

Sami’s former advisor is professor Tejumola Olaniyan, who passed away in 2019. Now he is working with professor Mary Layoun.

Sami’s research revolves around political cartoons and visual culture. He is currently writing his PhD dissertation on the social history of political cartoons in Tunisia.

Michael Mays

Michael MaysMichael is a graduate student in Statistics who has taught introductory courses on Data Modeling, Applied Statistics for Engineers, and Applied Statistics for the Life Sciences, as well as a course on Statistical Data Visualization.

“I have always thought of teaching as a collaborative process; learning happens when educators and students work together to develop mutual understanding,” Michael said. “COVID-19 has made me appreciate both the diversity of forms this collaboration can take and the responsibility educators have to meet students where they are. I think more about the burden I impose on students and how that will impact their day-to-day, which has made me interrogate some of my more Procrustean impulses as an educator. I have come to accept that, for example, when students send emails asking us to accept late work, it’s not because they mismanaged their time or don’t take the course’s responsibilities seriously; it’s not really about the work at all. They are a year into a pandemic, their obligations haven’t scaled with their emotional and mental bandwidth, and their email is a request for us to be in their corner. I have tried to be in students’ corners as much as possible.”

Kaden Paulson-Smith

Kaden Paulson-SmithKaden is a PhD student in Political Science who specializes in critical carceral studies, gender and sexuality politics, and feminist and postcolonial theory. Their dissertation examines the relationship between police, state, and identity under colonization and decolonization in Tanzania. They have taught courses on the Comparative Study of Genocide, Africa: An Introductory Survey, Culture and the Global Workplace, and Introduction to Political Theory.

“The most significant challenge brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic that I have faced in my teaching is unprecedented barriers to education,” Kaden said. “I have always taken seriously my responsibility as an educator to advocate for students to ensure that they could succeed.  However, the pandemic has helped me realize I had been thinking in terms of ‘accessibility,’ not ‘access.’ The pandemic presented an imperative, and opportunity, to go beyond improving accessibility for one student at a time, to lowering barriers for all students. This has led me to revamp my approach to course design, expectations, and assessments to be more responsive to students’ needs, goals, and fluctuating constraints. I will carry forward the principle of access by structuring future course design with the mindset of reducing barriers for all.”

Hyejin Jenny Yeon

Jenny YeonJenny is a PhD candidate in Mathematics specializing in mathematical modeling. She studies models for a set of quantities that evolve with time. The mathematical framework for this type of modeling is called “dynamical systems” – for example, the SIR model for modeling infectious diseases fits the dynamical system framework. Recently, she has also become interested in studying data-driven models such as ones used in artificial intelligence.

“The complexity of emerging problems, including this pandemic, is getting massive,” Jenny said. “I am hoping to be a mathematician who can help the process of problem-solving.”

She has taught remote courses in Preparatory Algebra, Algebra, and Quantitative Reasoning, and said that teaching remotely during the COVID-19 pandemic has brought to mind the importance of clarity and organization as a teacher.

“These are very important for in-person instructions as well,” Jenny said. “But their importance grew even more with the remote instruction where getting feedback from each other is constrained. I have been very fortunate to have the most understanding and patient students who help me by pointing out things that weren’t clear to them. The department was also very supportive. I want to take this opportunity to say thank you to the students as well as the department.”

Olga Kiseleva

Olga KiselevaOlga is a PhD student in Economics studying industrial organization. She has taught Economics 101, 102, 301, and 330. She said COVID-19 has highlighted the importance of connecting with students.

“When I met with students in-person weekly, I was better able to see if students were lost or on track with the course,” Olga said. “In an online setting it is harder to stay focused and keep up, so, more students are likely to fall behind. The pandemic made me realize the importance of checking on students and keeping them updated. When it just started, I learned that uncertainty hurts students much more than ‘being online’ itself.”

She also said the COVID-19 pandemic also helped her gain insight into active class participation.

“In a regular classroom, there are usually a few students who are actively working and answering your questions, while others are simply waiting for a solution to appear,” she said. “As a TA, I mistakenly believed that if I simply walked them through the solution step by step, it would be good enough. In reality, students retain only 20% of information obtained from demonstration, while they remember 75% when practicing themselves. In a Zoom meeting, it is even easier to not follow a class. So, inspired by platforms for online courses (like Udemy), I introduced polls and reactions for students. They are anonymous and simple to use and that is why they work! In fact, when we transition back, I plan to keep using these features in a regular classroom as a way to have all students participate, rather than a few most confident ones.”

Amie Goblirsch

Amie GoblirschAmie is a PhD student in the Department of Classical and Ancient Near Eastern Studies studying classics, specifically Latin technical literature and material culture. She has taught introductory and intensive elementary Latin courses, a course on Western Culture: Literature and the Arts, and courses in Classics including on Classical Mythology, The Greeks, and The Romans.

Amie said that the modality changes brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic have made her a more flexible instructor.

“For one, it has opened my eyes to the variety of different ways that material can be taught and assignments can be formulated,” she said. “But perhaps more significantly I think it has made me a much more merciful instructor. Not that I wasn’t generally kind and merciful before, but I was always rather strict about attendance policies and deadlines, unless students had a really good reason for missing class or a deadline. After what we’ve been through this last year, though, I can’t really see myself going back to that. Since the pandemic I have adopted a policy of promoting open communication above all with my students, and generally providing any/all accommodations that I can when a student requests it. At first this was in the spirit of flexibility because of the unpredictable nature of life during the pandemic, but I’ve now come to see it as a way to meet each student where they’re at and help them succeed from there. I think since spring 2020 I’ve become more acutely aware of the hardships students often face in both their personal lives and their lives as students, and I hope this is something I never lose sight of as an instructor.”

Lindsey Meekhof

Lindsey MeekhofLindsey is a DMA candidate in Vocal Performance at the Mead Witter School of Music. She has taught courses on Diction for Singers and Vocal Instruction for Majors and Non-Voice Majors.

“This past year educators have all felt the absence of in-person collaboration, and how valuable it is to engage in a group setting,” Lindsey said. “My students constantly amaze me with their resilience, and their ability to problem-solve. It has made me appreciate that even in the most challenging circumstances music can be a powerful force of expression, and that using technology has provided many unique learning opportunities. Working on repertoire through Zoom and using recordings is a very different skill than performing with live accompaniment in a shared space. Filming versus performing on a stage requires different preparation, and many more hours creating a single video. In the future, as we hopefully return to public performances, we will also be equipped with the tools that make online collaboration successful. Though this last year teaching has been incredibly difficult, I was honored to learn alongside my talented and hardworking students.”

Iason Giagtzoglou

Iason GiagtzoglouIason is a doctoral student in Music who specializes in piano performance and pedagogy. He has taught four different levels of group piano classes and has also offered private piano instruction for advanced non-music majors.

“The resulting changes of COVID-19 in course modality motivated me to explore different distance learning modalities that can keep us all, students and instructors, safe, while also capable of maintaining a critical human connection that will help us build a vibrant learning community where every member feels included, heard, and valued,” Iason said.

Ming Che

Ming CheMing is a PhD candidate in the Department of Botany. He specializes in plant molecular genetics with a focus on the molecular mechanism of plant gravitropism – how plants sense the gravity signal and redirect their growth accordingly. He has taught courses on General Botany and Plant Physiology.

“The virtual lab instruction forced by COVID-19 made me realize the importance of learning objectives,” Ming said. “It was an abrupt change to go into lockdown, and I found myself at a loss. But later I realized that I should review the course learning objectives, and then set up the remote instruction following the standard that learning objectives could be maintained as much as possible. It also made me more open-minded about a diversified teaching modality in the future.”

Sarah “Frankie” Frank

Frankie FrankFrankie is a PhD candidate and instructor in the Department of Sociology, where she has taught courses on Human Sexuality, Marriage & Family, and Gender, and in the Department of Legal Studies where she has taught Law & Sexuality and Women & Law. Her scholarship in sociology specializes in menstruation, sexuality, and law.

“Our students have shown us their resilience and dedication to their education, which has reinforced my own commitment to teaching and meeting student needs. Making more time for virtual face-to-face meetings has been essential to maintaining rapport with students and supporting their educational and professional goals,” she said. “Due to virtual conditions, my research labs have expanded to include more students interested in hands-on research experience with online data. Virtual classes have presented many challenges, but it has been great to see students continue to succeed despite these obstacles.”

Xerxes Minocher

Xerxes MinocherXerxes is a PhD student in Journalism and Mass Communication focused on Critical Technology Studies. They have taught Introduction to Journalism and Mass Communication, Mass Media in Multicultural America, Mass Media and Society, and Law of Mass Communication.

“Perhaps more than before, it feels important to approach teaching through a trauma-informed lens,” Xerxes said. “With a focus on relationships and transparency, it’s still possible to create a comfortable learning environment online, even though it remains difficult. I believe that by acknowledging the larger forces that are impacting each of us, we can create more meaningful connections to the material we are learning, as well as the people we are learning alongside.”

Xiangyun Tang

Xiangyun TangXiangyun is a doctoral student in the human development area of the Educational Psychology department, with specific concentrations in cyber and media psychology. Her research specifically lies in the study of what and how technology impacts interpersonal communication from a cognitive perspective. As a teaching assistant, she has taught Basic Statistics for Psychology.

“As a result of the pandemic and the sudden shift to online instruction, students experienced many challenges which could hinder their learning productivity, such as lack of motivation and social connection,” Xiangyun said. “To make sure every student has the support that they need, I tried to be as flexible as I can. To mimic in-person instruction, I tried to make good use of technology and provided real-time feedback. While studying from home, students have more distractions than attending in-person classes. To maximize student motivation and engagement, I am much more open-minded when it comes to thinking of fun activities to support the lab topics. Lastly, as a very experienced TA, my confidence delivers the message to students that I can support them in achieving their learning outcomes.”

Elizabeth Premo

Elizabeth PremoLiz is a fourth-year PhD student in the School of Social Work. Her research focuses on early childhood development, parent mental health, and family well-being. She is particularly interested in understanding how policies and services can support families during the early childhood years, especially for families experiencing poverty and other structural inequities.

Liz has taught two courses as an independent instructor: Basic Statistics for Social Workers, and Child, Youth, & Family Policies & Services. She is also currently working as a course developer for Social Work 920: Child, Youth, & Family Policies & Services, transitioning the course into an online format for the Part-Time Master of Social Work program.

“The transition to online teaching during the pandemic has required a combination of creativity, technological savviness, and trauma-informed pedagogy,” Liz said. “COVID-19 has underscored the importance of recognizing that students have complex lives outside of the classroom that influence how they engage within the learning environment. This is especially true when teaching in our Part-Time Master of Social Work program, as students are often juggling employment, internship, coursework, and family. Teaching two courses during this time has demonstrated how important it is to create space to authentically connect with one another, and I have learned that technology can offer innovative tools for cultivating that connection. Students learn best when they feel supported in their learning, and through skillful use of technology and genuine care for students, the virtual environment can foster deep connection and learning. Student engagement might look different in the online context, but it still thrives under similar circumstances: a shared sense of community, a collaborative and flexible atmosphere, and an intentionally designed learning environment.”

Gage Bonner

Gage BonnerGage is a PhD student in Physics focused on mathematical physics. He has taught courses including Physics 109, Physics 104, and Physics 202.

“Remote instruction can feel a bit impersonal at times. These past semesters have shown me the essential value – now more than ever – of bringing a friendly, engaging, and accommodating disposition to the classroom,” Gage said. “Students can almost always obtain the minutia of course content in a textbook or elsewhere; what makes teachers useful is that they can communicate these ideas in a much more human way. There is something unique about seeing a great teacher live, even through a computer screen.”

Gloria Morales Osorio

Gloria Morales OsorioGloria is a PhD candidate in the Department of Spanish and Portuguese. She is from Colombia and she is interested in book and reading history, reception, material culture, and the presence of books and readers in literature. In her dissertation she studies the materiality and canonicity of two Colombian book collections: Biblioteca Popular de Cultura Colombiana (1942-1952) and Biblioteca de Autores Colombianos (1952-1958). Since fall 2018, Gloria has taught Spanish 102, 203, 204, and 223 as a TA.

“During the pandemic, I have found a pedagogical haven in metacognition. These strange times of suspension and uncertainty allowed me to connect with assessment in a new way,” Gloria said. “In my class, I have tried to intensify the use of written feedback, self-assessment, and students’ evaluations about my performance. I am interested in how technology mediates both the way we offer comments on textual productions, and the ways we can get instant feedback about our pedagogical experiments in class. I think that metacognition in the pandemic can start with asking – myself and my students – how we are feeling and could end with assessing the reasons we make grammar mistakes. I would love to know more about different ways to approach assessment in a language classroom.”

Maggie Hughes

Maggie HughesMaggie is a PhD student specializing in twentieth/twenty-first century French & francophone literature. Her research focuses on embodiment and identity reconstruction in literary and cinematic works. She has taught French 101, French 102, and French 203, and has served as the Assessment and Technology TA for the French department.

“COVID-19 has encouraged me to think of new and creative ways of making information accessible to students and faculty within my department, such as through the creation of video tutorials and pamphlets,” Maggie said. “Additionally, foreign language courses rely heavily on partner and group work to develop speaking proficiency, so being pushed to re-envision what that would/could look like in an online format has changed the way that I view the feasibility of conducting online teaching of beginning and intermediate foreign language courses in an equally effective way. Although the benefits of in-person foreign language learning are undeniable, using technology to recreate the feel of interpersonal exchanges in the classroom has been both a challenge and a rewarding experience. When the pandemic first began and my department switched to online instruction, I was overjoyed to have students tell me that my course managed to feel the same as if they were being taught in-person. Learning which technologies are the most useful in the classroom can be a steep learning curve, and I’m still learning about new technologies that could be more helpful every day, but ultimately their use has enabled students to enjoy consistency in their foreign language learning throughout this tumultuous period.”

Jun Wang

Jun WangJun is a PhD student in Chinese focusing on Chinese linguistics. She has taught first- and second-year Chinese courses. She said the COVID-19 pandemic and resulting changes in course instruction have grown the way she works with students in three ways: first, by being open-minded and willing to try all possible methods that may work more effectively; second, by valuing students’ feedback because they can tell instructors what worked and what didn’t; and finally, underscoring that supporting students’ overall well-being is very important.