Biology and English GTAs earn Graduate Student Council Award for Graduate Student Teaching Excellence
Thursday, Nov. 29, 2018
MANHATTAN — Two graduate students have been awarded the Graduate Student Council Award for Graduate Student Teaching Excellence, sponsored by Kansas State University's Graduate Student Council.
The master's graduate teaching assistant award winner is Susanna Millsap, master's student in English, Belton, Missouri. Her adviser is Anne Longmuir, associate professor of English. The doctoral graduate teaching assistant award winner is Nick Barts, doctoral candidate in biology, Belleville, Illinois. His adviser is Michi Tobler, associate professor of biology.
The Graduate Student Council Award for Graduate Student Teaching Excellence recognizes graduate teaching assistants who have excelled in classroom teaching and serve to promote awareness of the important contributions graduate students make to the scholarship of the university. Millsap and Barts will represent the university for the Midwestern Association of Graduate Schools, or MAGS, Excellence in Teaching Award, with a winner selected at both the master's and the doctoral levels. Since the teaching award was established in 2011, Kansas State University has had six winners, the most winners of any university.
"I've always been interested in helping people communicate more effectively, and teaching Expository Writing gives me the opportunity to do so in an academic setting," Millsap said. "My course places a lot of emphasis on challenging assumptions and considering multiple perspectives of the same issue — skills that are often ignored in an increasingly polarized society. After practicing these soft skills inside of the classroom, my students are better able to engage in civil discourse and reasoned argumentation outside of the classroom as well."
Barts said effective teachers are more than the knowledge they share with their students; they are people who support and encourage all students to succeed.
"The classroom is where students begin to foster interests in topics like biology or literature, and as educators, teachers serve as a primary source of inspiration for those who become scientists, writers, artists and otherwise," Barts said. "To do this effectively, a teacher must provide the foundational knowledge those students need to understand a topic but also challenge them to think critically and question the information that is known. Not all students are capable of grasping topics as quickly as we'd like, and an effective teacher is aware of this, making time available to students and providing genuine assistance, advice and support."
Both Millsap and Barts receive a $500 scholarship and their names and departments are engraved on a perpetual plaque displayed in their departments until the next awards are given.
"Susanna and Nick are outstanding examples of the quality of teaching and mentoring that our graduate teaching assistants provide K-State undergraduates," said Carol Shanklin, dean of the Graduate School. "Our GTAs contribute to enhancing the undergraduate experience while gaining valuable experiences that will increase their competitiveness for future positions. I am honored that they will be representing our GTAs as K-State's nominees in the Midwestern Association of Graduate Schools competition in the spring."
Barts and Millsap will compete for a $750 honorarium that will be presented at the 75th annual Midwestern Association of Graduate Schools meeting, March 20-22, 2019, in St. Louis. One master's student and one doctoral student are selected for the award. The association is a regional affiliate of the Council of Graduate Schools. Its member colleges and universities are accredited institutions of higher education in the central U.S. that offer graduate programs leading to masters, specialist and doctorate degrees.
As a teacher, Millsap said her role isn't to force students to learn, but rather to help them grow.
"This growth looks different for each student who enters my classroom," Millsap said. "For some students who are already strong writers, the most significant takeaways from my course are the ability to think more critically and the opportunity to research a controversial issue that they have been curious about. For those who struggle to capture their thoughts on paper, my goal is for them to become more comfortable with written expression through each subsequent essay."
Helping students succeed in these areas takes a variety of forms, Millsap said, from referring students back to their own notes from previous class periods, to answering weekend questions over email, to meeting with students one-on-one during writing conferences.
"Learning is at the heart of becoming a great student, a great teacher and a great person, and in an educational setting, students and teachers must learn from each other to foster success," Barts said. "As an instructor, it is my goal to empower student success by first providing students with the fundamental concepts related to the course topic, encouraging the use of this knowledge to think critically about complex material and challenging students to question pre-existing information and apply what they have learned to answer questions in the field."
To ensure that his students are capable of reaching these goals, Barts said he must also learn what teaching strategies work for them and adapt his teaching to ensure his students are receiving equitable opportunities for success.