The Joys of Learning, Teaching, and Everything in Between

Ever since completing General Chemistry 1 with Dr. Ewing, I knew I wanted to collaborate with him again during my undergraduate career. I became a UTA for the course the following year but could not work with Dr. Ewing as he was on a sabbatical. During my second year, I learned about the great variety of opportunities the UHC offers to undergraduate students and the CUTF particularly piqued my interest. At some point during my junior year, I realized that I could combine both of these long term goals into one experience. My previous experiences as a UTA for General Chemistry 1 provided me with highly valuable insight into both the strengths and weaknesses of the way in which the course is currently offered. By interacting with students similar to myself, I developed a solid understanding of which teaching tools seemed to be most effective and which seemed to create additional confusion around already difficult topics.

Even before I developed a solid idea of what exactly my project would look like, I knew I wanted the project to be centered on connecting with students on a personal level where I share my own difficulties regarding concepts I struggled with. A common difficulty for students in General Chemistry 1 is that they have not worked out a study pattern (since most of the students are freshmen) and thus feel overwhelmed by other science courses and the general freshman experience. I remember when I was taking General Chemistry 1 I always felt that I did not provide myself with enough time to study for the exams because I was busy studying for other exams. Reading textbook pages over and over again late at night to understand large concepts that I did not grasp during lectures quickly proved to be an ineffective and highly stressful strategy.

I remember wishing for some sort of a course specific video which would highlight and explain the large concepts so that I had a starting point to approach the details and calculations discussed in the recitations. It was from this wish that I developed my project: “The Student-to-Student Chemistry Series.” I spent the time following the historic spring semester of 2020 further developing the details of the project and eventually put together an entire proposal. I sent an email to Dr. Ewing with my project proposal attached and he was very enthusiastic about supporting me and this endeavor.

A screenshot of the introductory portion of the latest video.

To all undergraduates considering this opportunity, I would recommend thinking about a course that you may have served as a teaching assistant for in the past and about professors who were able identify your true potential. In my experience, I felt that developing a project in a familiar environment was more organic since I was able to infuse my experiences directly into the heart and soul of the project. It should be noted that even though I had prior UTA experience for the course, I now feel like a more significant course collaborator through this experience. It was a strange feeling initially since I was quite used to my previous UTA duties but now I am filled with a warm sensation when I think about the amount of potential I have in creating change in students’ lives.

Of course, there were some initial apprehensions such as whether the videos would be effective or not, whether the editing software would work properly, whether the students would be confused by the videos or find them boring, and etc. As the semester progressed and as I conversed with students in the course, these initial fears eventually subsided and were replaced by a strong drive towards optimization and making each video more effective than the last. It should also be noted that Dr. Ewing has been a tremendous resource and source of support throughout this entire process. My weekly meetings with Dr. Ewing have helped me form a stronger relationship with a faculty member that has inspired me and for that I am very grateful.

If students are interested in teaching and learning about teaching, I would highly recommend tutoring a friend, family member, or fellow classmate on a topic that the student understands well. If that experience goes well and the “lightbulb” experience that occurs in the person learning the topic through your explanation is satisfying, I would recommend finding more tutoring experiences and looking into becoming a UTA. After gaining some UTA experience and developing a relationship with a faculty member, I would certainly recommend applying for the Chancellor’s Undergraduate Teaching Fellowship as it has been a phenomenal program that has already provided me with an immense amount of support.

Another screenshot from the latest video from the portion where I address general course information.

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