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Students nominate TAs

Terrific Advisor, Top Academic, Trustworthy Authority… there are many ways to describe a top-notch teaching assistant. These descriptions and many more can be shared by members of the University community through nominations for the 2008 Graduate Teaching Assistant Award.

The yearly award is sponsored by the Graduate Student Enhancement Program (GradSTEP) and the Graduate College, and it distinguishes the University’s top graduate teaching assistants. This year’s nomination deadline is Feb. 9.

Barbara Peck, director of GradSTEP, said the award will probably be given to three TA’s this year, who will receive more than simple recognition.

“The student [TA] recognizes they have made immense strides in their teaching development, in their personal development, as a teacher [and] as a professional,” she said. “It’s just one way that we can just say, ‘Thank you for what you are doing for the University and for our students.'”

The award process begins when undergraduates, graduate students, faculty members and administrators nominate teaching assistants who have taught at least one class, laboratory or study/recitation section in the past year. Nominators must submit a basic nomination form (found on the GradSTEP Web site), as well as a one-page letter describing reasons for their nominations.

Kyle Holody, GradSTEP coordinator of summer programs, is in charge of compiling the nominations. He said around 15 nominations had arrived as of Feb. 3, and he expects even more to come in before the submission deadline. The majority of nominations he has received have come from faculty members.

“Anybody can nominate the TA’s except for themselves, so if the graduate students in their departments have noticed that their colleagues are exceptionally good at their jobs, they should nominate their colleagues instead of relying on faculty and undergraduates to do that,” Holody said.

Once the nomination deadline has passed, GradSTEP notifies the nominated TA’s and sends them instructions on how to apply for the award. Applicants must submit a variety of information, including current resumes, letters of recommendation and teaching philosophies.

Molly Henry, a doctoral student and winner of the 2006 Graduate Teaching Assistant Award, recalled her surprise upon learning she was nominated.

“I was pretty jazzed actually to find out,” Henry said. “I had absolutely zero teaching experience prior to being a TA for the class that I was nominated in, and it’s a little bit hard to gauge your ability to do this job, I guess. You always sort-of feel insecure.”

Henry said she was feeling a little uneasy the day she received the award, as several people from GradSTEP randomly began filing into one of her classes.

“They stopped class and they were looking for me,” Henry said. “I started to get a little nervous just because I didn’t know what was going on.”

Henry was merely taking part in what Peck described as the “most fun” component of the award process: the surprise award presentation, which takes place in the winning TAs’ classes.

“We want to involve the students in the class[es] in the award presentation because they are usually the individuals that nominate this teaching assistant for this recognition,” Peck said.

Prior to the surprise presentations, the TAs’ applications are reviewed, and winners are chosen by a committee of GradSTEP staff and the GradSTEP Advisory Council.

The University president, president of the Graduate Student Senate, GradSTEP director and dean of the Graduate School are all invited to present the award during the designated class sessions. Other invitees include the TAs’ college dean, graduate coordinators, advisers, department chairs, teaching supervisors, media representatives and the award committee members, according to the GradSTEP Web site.

Winning TA’s are given certificates during their surprise class visits, along with invitations to the Shanklin Awards Banquet in April, where the dean of the Graduate School will present them with plaques and checks for $250, according to the GradSTEP Web site.

According to Henry, the best part of receiving the award was being asked to speak during graduate student orientation in the summer.

“It was really cool to interact with those people and respond to some of their worries and excitements,” she said.

Henry said she would definitely encourage the University community to nominate TA’s for the Graduate Teaching Assistant Award.

“I think the job of TA is not very glamorous, and if you actually really do care about what you’re doing, and you try quite hard and it’s recognized down the road, then it sort of reinforces that the effort you’ve put in is actually doing some good for someone,” Henry said.

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