The Graduate College

Spring 2012


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2012 Graduate Teaching Award

Congratulations to the 2012 Outstanding Graduate Teaching Assistant Award nominees! The Graduate College and the Faculty Development Program coordinate the annual award process, which includes nomination by faculty or staff members and the submission of a teaching portfolio. Recipients receive a $1,000 award, and both nominees and recipients are recognized at an April reception in their honor.

Nominees this year included Alyssa Anzelmo, Clinical Speech-Language Pathology; Carolina Bañuelos, Applied Criminology; Caitlyn Burford, Applied Communication;  Brian Burt, Applied Physics; Lesther Papa, Psychology; Samantha Petree, Spanish; Emily Saad, Chemistry; Dana Spinnler, Psychology; and Shelley Staples, Applied Linguistics.

The 2012 recipients, shown below with Graduate Dean Ramona Mellott, are:

Dean Mellott and Claudia Behnke

Claudia Behnke, Spanish
Nominated by Professor Cecilia Ojeda

Behnke has taught Spanish at NAU continuously since Fall 2010, including Spanish 101, 102, 201, and 202. Due to her high teaching evaulation scores and talent in the classroom, she was asked to teach a Spanish Honors course last fall. She delivers language lessons that lead her students to uncover the linguistic properies of the grammar, vocabulary, or cultural points she is covering, and her classes culminate with practice that is engaging, creative, and interactive. Technology takes an active role in her classroom, including online lessons, her blog and website, and the class Facebook site. She uses authentic cultural material such as newspaper articles, television shows, and music to motivate students to continue to investigate, seek, and learn beyond the classroom.

Behnke has presented on listening activities in the language classroom at the American Association of Spanish and Portuguese Teachers annual meeting and will present on the use of Facebook in the language classroom at the Southwest Conference on Language Teaching. New NAU teaching assistants and instructors are asked to observe Behnke's classes as examples of effective and communicative Spanish instruction for beginners. "In today's world multilingualism is not just a talent, but also a responsibility," Behnke says. "A second language is a prized skill that every student deserves to have."

Dean Mellott with Michael Cole

Michael Cole, Applied Physics
Nominated by Laboratory Manager John Kistler

Cole has taught labs for Physics 112, 262, and 264, two of which are normally taught by faculty members, which testifies to his versatility and depth of knowledge. Every week before the lab, he carefully works through the experiments and makes detailed notes of any problems he thinks the students will encounter. At the start of the lab, he presents a summary along with circuit diagrams he sketches on the white board. While the labs are in progress, he repeatedly goes around to each group, answers questions, and ensures that the equipment is working properly. He follows up by grading lab reports fairly and efficiently. Additionally, Cole has been a generous resource for his fellow teaching assistants, willingly explaining concepts, outlining pitfalls, and offering teaching suggestions.

Describing the physical world we live in with mathematics and abstract concepts like vectors and fields can be extremely hard for students to grasp, Cole says. When explaining an experiment or problem he never simply gives an answer: he tries to lead them to the correct answer. He places a premium on being able and available to explain difficult concepts, trying to relate how he has learned, and what he has seen work for others, in a coherent manner. His ultimate goal, and the most difficult, he says, is "to teach students how to learn at the most fundamental level and think for themselves, so that they have the ability to learn anything."

We would like to recognize all the 2012 GTA Award nominees and recipients for the quality of their work in classrooms and laboratories. Thank you for the important contributions you make to undergraduate education at NAU!

Advice from the Best!

How do you design group work for significant learning experiences? And what is the critical difference between cooperative and collaborative learning? Don't miss words of wisdom from Linda Shadiow, NAU Faculty Development Program director and professor of educational foundations: read "Collaborative Learning: Problem-Solving in Groups."