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K-State Today

December 4, 2012



Head of the class: Graduate teaching assistants earn award for excellence

By Communications and Marketing

Two Kansas State University graduate students are being recognized for excellence as graduate teaching assistants.

Tammy Sonnentag, doctoral candidate in psychology, Edgar, Wis., and Jarred Pfeiffer, master's candidate in fine arts-ceramics, Hartland, Wis., are recipients of the university's Graduate Student Council Award for Graduate Student Teaching Excellence for 2012. Each receives a $500 scholarship from the Graduate Student Council.

The award recognizes graduate students who have excelled in classroom teaching and serve to promote awareness of the important contributions graduate students make to the scholarship and the teaching mission of Kansas State University.

As the award winners, Sonnentag and Pfeiffer are also the university's nominees for the 2013 Midwestern Association of Graduate Deans Excellence in Graduate Student Teaching Award. Winners of the honor will receive a $750 honorarium and travel to the Midwestern Association of Graduate Students Conference in April 2013.

"Tammy and Jarred are to be congratulated on their passion for excellence in undergraduate teaching," said Carol Shanklin, dean of the Graduate School. "Tammy and Jarred are two of the nearly 300 graduate teaching assistants at Kansas State University who work diligently to enhance the undergraduate learning experiences. They are to be commended for their excellence in teaching and their passion for making a difference in the learning experiences of our undergraduates."

Sonnentag has been the primary instructor for the courses General Psychology, Health Psychology, Lifespan Personality Development and Psychology of Childhood and Adolescence. She also has assisted faculty with various undergraduate and graduate courses in the department of psychology.

"It is an honor to be recognized for the Graduate Student Council's Award for Graduate Student Teaching Excellence. I am very humbled by the award and give much credit the faculty in the department of psychology for encouraging and facilitating my teaching endeavors," she said. "There are many individuals who are noteworthy role models for my teaching. Two of the most noteworthy are Dr. Mark Barnett, professor of psychology, and Dr. Donald Saucier, associate professor of psychology. Both of these faculty members have a passion for teaching, and I strive to achieve the standards of teaching excellence that they set."

Michael Young, professor and head of the department of psychology, said the reason Sonnentag has such a strong teaching record is because the department has great confidence in having her in front of a classroom or leading a lab.

"Tammy truly loves to teach. Indeed, we have a hard time keeping her away from the classroom," Young said. "In addition to teaching four other courses, she has taught General Psychology six times -- including as a distance learning course when the university's Division of Continuing Education requested that she prepare the course so that future instructors could benefit from her approach."

Sonnentag plans to graduate in May 2014 and wants to find a position to pursue her interests in teaching and research.

Pfeiffer says teaching is his passion -- and the family business.

"As someone who comes from a family of teachers, this award means a lot to me," he said. "My parents are my role models. My parents have more than 65 years of combined teaching experience. They have definitely influenced my teaching style and the person I am today in the classroom. My father taught high school ceramics, and my mother taught elementary school. Seeing their teaching style, compassion and love of education has made me the teacher that I am."

Pfeiffer's teaching skills so impressed Lynda Andrus, professor of art and director of undergraduate studies for the department of art, she created a position just for him. As the graduate assistant area coordinator of 3-D design, Pfeiffer worked with and mentored the three other graduate students who taught 3-D design courses. He also purchased equipment and supplies, maintained the classroom, coordinated student exhibitions and gave presentations in Art 105.

"Jarred is an inspiring communicator and an empathetic teacher with great skills in management and organization," Andrus said. "He places great emphasis on his teaching and the quality of those efforts to advance his students' learning. Jarred is patient, compassionate and curious. He has a passion for teaching that is appreciated and instantly recognized by all."

Prior to joining the Master of Fine Arts program at Kansas State University, Pfeiffer was with Teach For America and taught high school geometry in Charlotte, N.C. He said the experience taught him a lot about who he is and the teacher he wants to be. Along with teaching 3-D design, he currently teaches Ceramics 1. He also has taught 2-D design and Art for Elementary Teachers.

Pfeiffer will graduate in May 2013 and wants to teach at the college or university level.

Graduate teaching assistants also nominated for the award included: Melissa Prescott, master's student in English, and Alicia Goheen, master's student in second language acquisition, both from Manhattan; Rachel Pigg, doctoral candidate in biology, Franklin, Tenn.; and Nicole John, doctoral student in sociology, St. Andrews, Wis.