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K-State News
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Biology and English GTAs earn graduate student teaching excellence awards

Wednesday, Nov. 4, 2020



MANHATTAN — Two graduate students have been awarded the GSC Award for Graduate Student Teaching Excellence, sponsored by Kansas State University's Graduate Student Council.

The master's graduate teaching assistant award winner is Ngainunmawi "Mawi" Sonna, master's student in English, Kansas City, Kansas. Her major professor is Traci Brimhall, associate professor of English. The doctoral graduate teaching assistant award winner is Seton Bachle, doctoral candidate in biology, Murdock, Nebraska. His major professor is Jesse Nippert, professor of biology.

The GSC Award for Graduate Student Teaching Excellence recognizes graduate teaching assistants who have excelled in classroom teaching. The awards promote the important contributions graduate students make to the scholarship of the university. Sonna and Bachle 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, K-State has had six winners, the most from any university.

Both Sonna and Bachle 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.

"Mawi and Seton are outstanding examples of the quality of teaching and mentoring that our graduate teaching assistants provide K-State undergraduates and contribute to the successful completion of their degrees," 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. The skills they gain will be invaluable throughout their career. I am excited that they are K-State's nominees in the Midwestern Association of Graduate Schools competition this spring."

"Teaching is more than just the transfer of information; it's an opportunity for creativity and to build wonderful writing communities," Sonna said. "I remember the nervousness as a first-year college student, but I also remember the kindness and passion my teachers brought to the classroom every day. I strive to emulate their excellence and tenderness, and an occasional meme or two in my classroom."

Sonna said that she understands how writing can be an intimidating process.

"It is both abstract and formulaic; creative and structured; individual and collaborative," she said. "My teaching philosophy is much like a poem, in that to understand how a line break can carry as much weight as a metaphor, one must understand how each small part makes up the whole body of work. At the core, my hope is for students to leave knowing why their writing and the writer matter."

Bachle said that he believes that teaching, mentorship and research are inherently linked.

"The time and energy that has shaped my research as a doctoral student drives the student-focused and inquiry-based active learning I promote in the classroom," Bachle said. "In order to provide a meaningful learning experience for students, I aim to encourage curiosity in biological sciences, but also foster other general lifelong skills giving students the ability to transfer the skills learned in my classroom to a possibly unrelated field of study or career."

Bachle said that his goal is to create a student-focused lab and classroom environment that promotes respectful and inquisitive well-rounded students ready to take on the world. It's important to him to refine his skills and become a more effective teacher because it's his passion and responsibility.

"I consider the work an homage to the incredible mentors who have shaped my life and education," Bachle said. "While I'm appreciative of this award, I look forward to improving my efficacy by learning new techniques to further my career."

Sonna and Bachle will compete for a $750 honorarium that will be presented at the 77th annual Midwestern Association of Graduate Schools meeting, which will be conducted virtually March 24-26, 2021. One master's student and one doctoral student are selected for the award.

The Midwestern Association of Graduate Schools is a regional affiliate of the Council of Graduate Schools. The association's 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.


Carol Shanklin

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Kansas City, Kansas, and Murdock, Nebraska


GSC Award for Graduate Student Teaching Excellence


Download the following photo.

Mawi Sonna

Mawi Sonna, master's student in English, is the winner of the Kansas State University GSC Award for Graduate Student Teaching Excellence at the master's level.

Download the following photo.

Seton Bachle

Seton Bachle, doctoral candidate in biology, is the winner of the Kansas State University GSC Award for Graduate Student Teaching Excellence at the doctoral level.