CUTF Blog Post #1: Navigating a Packed Plate

Hello—my name is Edwin Coffman, and this is my first blog post for the Chancellor’s Undergraduate Teaching Fellowship. I am mentoring under Dr. Andrew Lotz of Pitt’s Political Science Department in his Myth, Propaganda, and the State analysis course. In my project, I am an undergraduate teaching assistant. Here, I will connect with students and create specific deliverables to enhance their time in the course. My prominent roles will be to provide worthwhile contributions to class discussion, fill gaps of silence and misunderstanding, and serve as a point of expertise and reference for the students. Apart from my leading roles, I will undertake three other tasks:

  1. I am teaching a day of class.
  2. I am meeting with half the class’s students to discuss their final projects.
  3. I am building an accessible repository that includes a content analysis how-to video for the students of subsequent semesters. 

I am entering my final semester of undergraduate study at Pitt, and I thought it would be fruitful to undertake this role of teacher’s assistant during my busiest term yet. Entering college, I don’t recall creating a set of goals for myself that I expected to complete by the end of my would-be eight semesters—though I think I’ve accomplished more than I ever would have thought. As I became more involved in research at Pitt following my second year, my goals—if you could call them that—were to pack my undergraduate career with as much possible and further explore, dissect, and serve the world around me. My time as an undergraduate is waning, and I hope to make the most of the final segments. 

After my undergraduate graduation, I am taking a gap year. As a side note, I dislike the gap year terminology. I understand that it’s good phraseology for the interim period between two types of schooling; however, it seems to remove the innate importance of that interim period—it removes its merit. Sure, a gap year is a break in traditional education continuity, though it’s not a hole. A gap year doesn’t have to be a dark, frightening cave. In my specific case, it’s time to continue non-traditional learning and read books beyond a syllabus, which will further build upon my preexisting foundation of knowledge. To rephrase—I’m not taking a gap year—I’m taking a foundation year, an advancement year, and a well-deserved year of personal and intellectual advancement. 

Apart from my spiel, the CUTF is helping me reach my academic goal of packing my final semester full by acting as another piece of my scholarly puzzle. It’s filling out my résumé and teaching me how to project my voice to a class full of students. Dr. Lotz is pushing me to experience teaching, and the experience further prepares me to work under pressure. The semester is already beginning at a profound pace; however, I feel like I’m prepared to succeed. Things are only headed up from here. 

CUTF is gearing up to be a fantastic experience full of assignments I’ve never tried to undertake (projects of which I’ve been too fearful to undertake [like providing a day of instruction to 40 students!]). It’s unfathomable how far I’ve advanced at Pitt, and it’s sometimes frightening how much further I must go. Though, I’m ready to tackle this semester.

The final piece of this blog’s prompt is to provide something unique about myself, and I was having trouble quickly and seamlessly incorporating it into this response—so, I’m going to do it bluntly at the end. Some fun facts: I’ve traveled the country in a short blue bus, I enjoy Appalachian Studies, I play guitar and pluck the banjo, I cycle in the summer and snowboard in the winter, I photograph landscapes with drones, and I write poetry in my phone’s notes.

Also, here’s a photo of me at Benny Marconi’s in Roanoke, VA.

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