Friday, April 29, 2011

Graduate Student Awards for Academic Year 2010–2011; Department of Geography, University of Tennessee at Knoxville (part 3)

Exceptional Professional Accomplishment Award
Eric Carr
As a student working full time at NIMBios, Eric is a great example of someone who is always enthusiastic and excited about what goes on in the department, even after a stressful day at work. Eric works at NIMBios as a High Performance Computing Specialist and that is where much of his interests are. While Eric and I have different backgrounds and different research interests, he is constantly teaching me something new every time I see him. We have discussions about methods and research often, and I think I always learn something from him and he is always questioning different research and topics. He is truly a critical thinker in that he always has multiple viewpoints on the same issue and can come up with interesting questions very quickly. Not only does he enhance the intellectual atmosphere of the department, he also is very helpful to individuals and their own goals. Eric is one of the most passionate students in the department in my experience and has made a great effort to be a part of department functions on a regular basis. This is no easy task for someone with a full time job, but I think Eric works with the two responsibilities better than most. If you discuss your research with Eric, you will always receive useful information whether it is related to data availability, different methods or even asking different research questions. He questions everyone’s research not to bring it down but to improve your ideas on it and think about the best approaches. While our interests are quite different and sometimes I am lost on the specifics, Eric represents the kind of graduate student that I wish I was. Eric is someone who is always thinking about new ideas and new approaches and always has helpful suggestions for others.

Outstanding Teaching Assistant Award
Derek, Alice, Peggy, and Niki

Niki Garland
We wish to nominate master’s student Niki Garland for the Outstanding Teaching Assistant award. A total of 41 students completed the ratings forms for Niki, and the students in her laboratory sessions were more than pleased with the laboratory sessions themselves and with Niki as a competent and helpful teacher. In the first lab, Niki received a perfect score -- 80 “excellent” ratings and not a single “okay” or “poor” rating. In the second lab, Niki received 83 “excellent” ratings, one “okay” rating, and no “poor” ratings. The students comments were ringing with ebullience about the quality of Niki’s teaching: “Was asked questions over and over, but Niki was patient and explained everything” – “She knew the information very well.” – “She brought her “A” game every day.” – “Niki was extremely helpful and wanted us to learn the material.” – “She was always cheerful and enthusiastic.” – “Niki was very helpful and nice to all students.” – “She really understood and could explain the material.” – “Niki never got frustrated with any students.” Niki received not one negative comment! These comments and phrases like “awesome,” “great,” and “helpful” testify to Niki’s ability to connect with her students to provide a welcoming and rewarding learning environment for the students in our lower-level classes. Niki is very deserving of the Outstanding Teaching Assistant Award in the Department of Geography!

Peggy Jackson
Peggy Jackson is an excellent teaching assistant. She anticipates needs and follows directions to the letter. Peggy is a great asset to any instructor, making their lives easier. Not only did she complete her own duties as TA, but also organized and managed the other TAs in the class, taking a huge load off of my plate. Peggy never needs to be told what to do. She contributes to class and is a model for other TAs to follow.

Derek Martin
Being chosen to serve as Head GTA for Geography 132 is very significant recognition of outstanding work as a Graduate Teaching Assistant, and his excellent work this semester as head GTA has showcased Derek Martin’s competence, knowledge, good humor, and professionalism. Meanwhile, the students in his labs, even those who didn’t like the labs, noted on their evaluations that he was always willing to help them and that he had a way of explaining things that really helped them understand. Many of them noted that he really wanted them to learn, and they even appreciated that he made them think and did not tell them the answers. Remarkably, 12 of the 40 students who completed evaluations for Derek Martin in 131 said they had met with him during office hours, some of them numerous times. That’s way above the average (estimated at 0.0001 percent) and demonstrates his ability to connect with the students, as well as the respect they had for his knowledge and teaching. Student comments about Derek as a GTA ranged from the low-key “he was always helpful and explained things in a way we could understand,” to more enthusiastic comments, such as ”Derek is awesome!” and “Mart is the man!” Even his beard got top honors, as in “His beard is righteous and worthy of glory.” I nominate Derek Martin (beard and all) for an outstanding GTA award. Although this is his first year in our program, he will be moving into a Graduate Teaching Associate position next fall. He is now one of the few doctoral students in physical geography who will be available to teach labs, so it is quite possible that this is his last semester as a Graduate Teaching Assistant.

Kevin Russell
Kevin has done an outstanding job completing his duties as the teaching assistant in Geog 310 and assisting with map projects in the cartography lab. In Geog 310 he goes the “extra mile” to assist students with class assignments and maintains a good, approachable relationship with them. Many times I have observed him take the time to criticize a student’s map work. Then he will turn that criticism into a teaching opportunity and discuss with that student how things could be done in a more effective manner. He does an excellent job with his grading responsibilities and maintains the class records quite well. Kevin participates in class and lab discussions, which add to a team style of teaching that greatly helps our undergraduates learn the finer points of mapmaking. He is technically knowledgeable in GIS, which is also a plus during the teaching of this course. In the Cartography Lab he has helped with, or completed, several map projects that have been used in professional publications for our faculty and faculty of other UT Departments. He is currently helping me research ideas and techniques that will improve the usefulness of the UT Campus Map. Kevin is a very dependable and self-motivated worker. His hard working, pleasant disposition make him a pleasure to work with and I would have to rank him among the top workers I have had in this office.

Alice Schoen
As Head GTA for Geography 131 this year, Alice Schoen set up labs and helped other GTAs prepare to teach them. She also taught her own lab, for which she received stratospheric numerical evaluation scores (higher than anyone else), and highly positive comments from students on our departmental evaluation form. Among our favorite comments are these:
“Alice was a great lab instructor, always prepared and a great help.”
“Alice is a very energetic and competent instructor.”
“She helped us feel like we could do well even when we didn’t think we could.”
“She did not give me the answers but encouraged me think more about this or that.”
“Alice was really good at making information relatable and not making me feel dumb.”
Informal feedback indicates Alice is also a much appreciated 132 GTA this term. She is highly deserving of a Department of Geography Graduate Teaching Assistant Award!

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