2021 Teaching Assistant of the Year Award Winners
The McKetta Department of Chemical Engineering awards the Teaching Assistant of the Year award to a teaching assistant (TA) who demonstrated an exceptional experience for the students and professor. In a year where all instruction was virtual and students had to adapt to a new educational norm, contributions as a TA were especially important.
This year, the department has awarded four TA of the Year awards! The 2020-2021 winners are Angela Gordillo Sierra, Ben Stacy, Gina Partipilo, and Wantae Kim.
Dr. Lea Hildebrandt Ruiz, Graduate Program Advisor expressed, “We are very proud of and thankful to all of our teaching assistants who have such a positive influence on our students’ lives and educational experience.”
Winners of this award must be graduate students with a minimum 3.25 GPA, who are working with students and who have made a meaningful impact on students during their time as a TA. Each winner will receive $3,500 with the award.
The department received many strong nominations this year and was honored to be able to grant multiple awards.
“It is so gratifying to know I was able to make a difference in my students’ learning experiences, especially in a year that was hard for so many due to the pandemic. I think as a TA it is very important to think through and work through all of the steps of a problem together with students, so they can learn how to approach problem-solving themselves. With virtual learning this year, it was therefore very important to generate spaces for students to ask questions and learn together. This included things like using zoom breakout rooms and virtual learning tools. It was definitely a learning experience for all of us, but I think we made the best of it! I am also very grateful to Dr. Alper for allowing me to be his TA. He is an excellent professor who truly cares about his students’ success and I just followed his example in my teaching style.”
From Angela’s nominating professor, Dr. Hal Alper:
“Angela really rose to the occasion with this class. It was clear that students in the class (and subsequently their success in this class) was due to Angela’s hard work. 317 is never an easy class to teach and certainly virtual delivery made it even harder. Angela was exceptional in her role and was well respected by the students.”
“I tried to put myself in the students’ shoes as much as possible. I looked back on what I found helpful or frustrating from my TAs in undergrad and tried to think about what the students want to learn in recitation and office hours.”
From Ben’s nominating professor, Dr. Brian Korgel:
“Perhaps the biggest reason that I think Ben is deserving of this recognition—especially, this year… the year of COVID—is that many students expressed their sense of being overwhelmed throughout the semester and they needed a lot more support than our department can usually provide, and Ben provided this support for them. There is something about zoom lectures and virtual meet-ups with little in-person contact that wears on people. It’s isolating and difficult to manage emotionally and mentally.
Lecturing to an iPad is one of the most impersonal experiences I’ve had as a professor at UT, and the students feel that too. Ben was somehow able to break through that impersonal virtual interface and provide a personal connection and a human, supportive resource to the students. My belief is that as TA in ChE 350—a class with such a large enrollment of our students—Ben served this semester as a critical part of the department’s support network for our students. He was vital not only to their learning, but their well-being. I am extremely grateful to him for his efforts during the semester and capacity to support not only our students, but me as an instructor as well. I really appreciated his work.”
“I have had fantastic mentors and professors that genuinely care about student success and learning, which has been especially relevant during this last year as we adapted to new learning environments. For me, TAing is about providing students with the tools and support to make connections necessary to apply the concepts later, both inside and outside of the classroom.”
From Gina’s nominating professor, Dr. Delia Milliron:
“Overall, Gina’s efforts were extraordinary and made a real difference in helping our first-year students navigate a very tough first semester with resilience and bolstered confidence. She substantively improved Advanced Thermo in a way that will carry forward to later years, especially through the simulation project she developed.”
“I am honored to receive this award and am very grateful to Dr. Ganesan for giving me an opportunity to be a TA for a core course in the department. I felt a sense of achievement when I could guide students to apply the concepts they learned during the class into an actual problem-solving process. Being a TA during the pandemic was not an easy task for me. However, students were very patient and truly willing to interact through the virtual platform, which kept me motivated throughout the semester.”
From one of the class students about Wantae:
“The unprecedented challenges and stress that 2020 brought were especially difficult on the graduate student teaching assistants who needed to balance the new way of virtual instruction in addition to keeping up the new format of their research which was restricted to specific hours in a cohort schedule. I seriously commend Wantae Kim who full heartedly managed to effectively stay organized and communicate the course material for CHE381N.
Wantae’s command of the material was rock-solid and he always knew exactly what concept(s) we were covering in Dr. Ganesan’s transport class. Wantae would always be extremely well-prepared to run office hours and would reveal the perfect amount of information for each homework exercise to ensure that each problem was the ideal challenge. Wantae had a strong intuition for which specific topics were prone to causing confusion and would spend extra time reviewing these more slowly. Dr. Ganesan’s transport class is regarded as the most menacing of the three core classes and the online format did not make it any easier. Wantae provided a calming presence and happily assisted all of us to make this course significantly more manageable. I performed well in this course and I am certain my success would not have been possible without Wantae.”