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Every year, the Dartmouth Center for the Advancement of Learning (DCAL) invites undergraduates who have taken a class with a graduate student, or had a graduate student research mentor, to nominate those who have demonstrated particular excellence or who have made a significant impact. In recognition of their outstanding efforts a celebration lunch is hosted at DCAL to which nominators and nominees are invited. The lunch takes place during the annual Graduate Student Appreciation Week and this year’s lunch was held on Tuesday, April 3.
Twenty-three TAs and mentors were nominated this year and DCAL Associate Director, Cindy Tobery, commented that this was one of the most popular lunches she’d hosted, with a total of 32 in attendance. Nominees expressed real delight and excitement at being recognized for something they see simply as a part of the responsibilities of a graduate student, and one which they seem to thoroughly enjoy.
Working as a Teaching Assistant (TA) can be one of the most rewarding experiences of the graduate academic career. GTAs are given the opportunity to develop their role as a mentor and are able to take the initiative in defining what that looks like. Preparation and commitment are essential as are effective time-management skills. GTAs must be available to the professor where assistance is required in course development and grading, and also to troubleshoot with the undergraduates and offer support and guidance when needed.
The GTA provides a link between the undergrads and the professor, and as recent learners themselves, they can help the undergraduates navigate the course, provide strategies for success, and act as a liaison to the professor. It’s an experience that deepens the relationship with their professor, but also serves as a wonderful opportunity to deepen their own self-awareness, helping to define their own learning/teaching capabilities and expectations.
Undergraduates who nominated graduate students wrote of the powerful impact their TA or mentor had had on their academic trajectory, frequently citing instances where they had gone above and beyond to ensure their success. “I've had to learn a whole new programming language and online interface,” wrote one nominator of his mentor, “he patiently helped me through the entire learning process as I asked him tons of repeated and simple questions. He has been extremely accessible, answering all of my emails and organizing meeting times once or twice per week, every week.”
In another letter, the GTA made such a significant impact that the student felt confident enough to persevere where previously they had seriously considered dropping out: “I was considering dropping engineering altogether,” wrote one undergrad. “That term was one of my hardest at Dartmouth. With [GTA] as my lab instructor, I truly felt as if I knew what was going in the lab. I began to understand things on the conceptual level and I now began to see why Chemistry was such a crucial aspect of engineering. (She) made me feel as if I could do STEM at Dartmouth.”
The resources offered at DCAL go a long way to preparing the GTAs for their role, with numerous courses and professional development workshops held throughout the year. Cindy Tobery notes the support of DCAL is open to all; “Whether or not a graduate student intends to teach in a classroom someday, they teach throughout their graduate career both in and out of the classroom. The one on one mentoring that graduate students offer, either though research connections or from being a TA, makes a huge difference in the lives of undergraduates. It’s always a pleasure to read the thoughtful nominations by the students who have truly appreciated what the graduate students have done for them!” Congratulations to all the mentors and TAs!
Graduate Teaching Assistants and mentors recognized at the 2018 lunch were: