Experiences as an Undergraduate Teaching Assistant

It was freshman year when I first met Dr. Gardner in a new Biology UTA preparation class. Before I decided to pursue genetic counseling, I originally came to Pitt with the idea of eventually becoming a Biology teacher. So, I thought taking the class would help me develop some skills that would prepare me for the occupation. I didn’t know this at the time, but the following semester I would be a UTA for Dr. Gardner’s Foundations of Biology class. Even more so, I never would have thought my freshman year I would be playing such an active role in the Foundations of Biology class.

As a student in a normal Foundations of Biology class, I was always intimidated to attend office hours or go up and introduce myself. This changed when I took the preparation course with Dr. Gardner. The class was small, so I did not feel as pressured to just sit and watch, I felt comfortable raising my hand and actively participating. Fun fact, Dr. Gardner is actually the first professor I ever went to office hours with to ask about the career I am now pursuing, genetic counseling!

After passing that class and becoming a UTA for Dr. Gardner, the idea of my project began to culminate in my mind as I experienced different types of students all having difficulty with the transition to online school. Some of this difficulty stems from this sense that students have trouble connecting different concepts in biology and making educated conclusions. Additionally, students are more disconnected from each other and are not engaging with their peers as much as when in person classes were available.

A practice question from the second review video for students.

With my videos, I wanted to create something students could use that would review concepts gone over in class while also adding in an outside concept to help students understand that everything they learn is going to be built on or connected back to new information. I also wanted to design something to alleviate the possible isolation students were having to deal with. When I began working on Eastmure’s Educational Enzymes, I was more concerned with reviewing the information gone over in class rather than working through practice problems to show this concept application they would need to know. Dr. Gardner was able to work with me to fix and improve the idea by encouraging me to use outside examples to help demonstrate the information needed for the class. In addition to this, a discussion board is used to post the videos and gives students the ability to engage with both each other and the other UTAs.

My best advice for an undergraduate who wants to learn more about teaching is to talk to your professors! I was terrified of professors my Freshman year, but they are people too! Most teachers are there for the students and I am sure many of them would be more than happy to point someone interested in education in the right direction!  

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