I decided to apply to the CUTF in February 2023. Part of the reason that I applied is because I already had several ideas on what kind of project could enhance the class I was taking at the time – Functional Neuroanatomy. There are various difficult circuits that undergraduate neuroscience students learn in this class, and often students do not fully understand them. I noticed in myself and my peers that learning the circuitry in the retina was especially challenging. I knew that this would be an excellent focus for a project, and so my idea was born. I was determined to improve student learning by creating a modifiable schematic representation of this circuitry to force active learning and functional understanding.
I had the pleasure of being in Dr. Fanselow’s Functional Neuroanatomy class, where she had already implemented several different models that aided learning in the classroom. Familiar with Dr. Fanselow’s teaching style and dedication to her students, I knew working with her would be an amazing experience. I emailed her a brief description of the award and what kind of project I was thinking of doing. We met and discussed my idea, and it was decided. I wrote up a project proposal and submitted the application.
As this project was developed, it was an adjustment working with Dr. Fanselow as opposed to just learning from her. I have served as a teaching assistant in the past, and so was used to collaborating with faculty members. However, this was the first time that I was working on a project with a faculty member that was my professor at the same time. Adjusting to the role of collaborator versus educator (something I was already familiar with as a peer tutor and TA) versus student forced me to be critical of my own knowledge, skills, and limitations. I’ve had to learn new skills and spend hours brainstorming how best to help students understand this complicated material. I have learned so much about teaching just through designing this model. The hours of work that goes into this every week for the last few months have given me a newfound appreciation for our educators. I’m attaching a picture of some of my process. So far, it has included a lot of super glue and commandeering the coffee table in my apartment. This is hard work. I wouldn’t want to be doing anything else.
Teaching was not something I saw myself wanting to do until I started doing it. It’s scary and weird but it has only gotten easier, and I have only gotten better. My experiences as a TA and a peer tutor allowed me to think critically about how students learn and why that learning might be blocked. This let me see where the classroom experience can improve and how, which is how I found my project.
The past few months have been full of learning curves, but with the support of Dr. Fanselow and the other staff helping me, I have managed to leap every hurdle. What started as a fun idea turned into my passion, and I can’t wait to see this project in action.