Extraordinary Graduate Student Teaching honors graduate students’ excellence in instruction.
Meg Burress is a doctoral candidate in educational psychology in the Department of Educational Psychology and Counseling. A native of Japan, she teaches two sessions of intermediate Japanese each semester as a graduate teaching assistant in the Department of Modern Foreign Languages and Literatures. She is being honored for her teaching performance, her related research and writing skills, and her commitment to excellence in teaching and learning. Her student evaluation scores over the past three semesters average an impressive 4.4 out of 5, meaning that most of her students rank her instructional ability as either very good or excellent. Her students say she is by far one of the best teachers they’ve had—in the words of one, “favorite sensei ever!” Burress is known for her serious study of teaching in a quest to improve her classroom skills. She also studies teaching and learning environments in a variety of settings and has co-authored publications and conference papers on collaborative learning, self-directed learning, and action research.
Michael McDonald invests a great deal of his own time and energy teaching students about investing in financial markets and managing assets. A doctoral candidate in finance, he routinely receives rave reviews from students in his 300-level undergraduate courses, which are known to be a challenge for business majors and quite difficult for nonmajors. McDonald focuses on making his courses relevant to all students, regardless of their background. “He relates well to the students and spends a considerable amount of time outside the classroom answering their questions and helping them with the more difficult material,” his nomination states. McDonald also invests his own resources in bringing in outside material to explain that day’s topic, and devotes part of each class to connecting academic concepts with the everyday experiences of his students.
Writing well is an art. Being a naturally talented teacher is a rare gift. Carolyn Wisniewski has managed to combine the two, and our students are the beneficiaries. Wisniewski is the assistant director of first-year composition at UT and a doctoral candidate in English. She’s writing her dissertation on preparing instructors to teach students how to write well. Wisniewski lives what she teaches, and it’s because she loves what she does. “Carolyn’s performance in the classroom, her expertise in mentoring and training other teachers, and her scholarship on the subject of preparing teachers make her a worthy recipient for this award,” her nomination notes. Wisniewski’s application of research to the issue of teacher education helped form her dissertation study. She has presented several academic papers on the topic of how new teachers approach educating their students in writing. But what stands out is her special touch in the classroom, her “skill in teaching students to write and her strong rapport with students—including her ability to address each student attentively, often building on their questions to engage other members of the classroom.” Wisniewski’s course preparation, syllabi, assignments, and grading of student papers are professional and engaging, and her ongoing support of students is outstanding, her colleagues note. Wisniewski challenges and encourages her fellow graduate students as well, with a weeklong series of teaching workshops for new lecturers and graduate teaching associates in English that focus on college-level composition.