ChBE employs undergrads as course assistants

During the 2014-15 academic year, undergraduates in the School of Chemical & Biomolecular Engineering are working as course assistants for the first time, thanks to a $25,000 grant from Chevron.


Seung Yeon “Stacie” Kim (from left), Nathan Corbin, Katie Ilsley, Kristin Presnell and Sam Leach were among the inaugural group of undergraduate course assistants in fall 2014. Kim, Corbin and Presnell are serving as course assistants in the spring term as well.

Nine students were selected for fall 2014 and 10 students were selected for spring 2015 as Chevron Undergraduate Teaching Fellows. The students are assisting with grading, keeping office hours and supporting graduate teaching assistants. Each one is supervised by a professor and is getting an early, firsthand taste of academia from the other side of the desk.

Ami Waller-Ivanecky, ChBE undergraduate advisor, said the new program is designed to benefit not only the students serving as course assistants but also the fellow students in their classes.

“Undergraduate enrollment in ChBE continues to increase, and our students are faced with a challenging curriculum and need early and consistent support to ensure their academic success,” Waller-Ivanecky said. “When the undergraduate course assistants can help handle some of the administrative tasks, that frees up the graduate teaching assistants and faculty members to be able to monitor the students and spend more time assisting those who are struggling.”

The undergraduate assistants receive formal training. During their first term, they must complete a one-hour pass/fail course developed in partnership with the Georgia Tech Center for Enhancement of Teaching and Learning. The course covers topics such as grading scenarios, pedagogical philosophy, and policies and procedure.

Dr. Sandy Pettit, ChBE lecturer, is the instructor for this course and developed much of the course material.

“Beyond the basic topics, the undergraduate course assistants engage in role-playing, practice presentation skills and interact with faculty and staff who serve as guest lecturers,” Pettit said. “They discover that an intertwined collaboration between the instructor and the student is the heart of teaching and learning.”

She also works with several of the undergraduate course assistants for ChBE 2130 (Chemical Engineering Thermodynamics I).

“Working with an undergraduate course assistant is a great partnership. They keep me connected with undergraduate campus activities, technology trends and key concept difficulties that could affect the performance of students in the class,” Pettit said.

During the fall semester, Nathan Corbin worked as an undergraduate course assistant for Professor Yoshiaki Kawajiri’s ChBE 2120 (Numerical Methods in Chemical Engineering) class. This spring, he is working with Professor Pete Ludovice’s ChBE 2120 class.

He said there are certain advantages to being an undergraduate student assisting with an undergraduate course.

“Undergraduate course assistants are a really good bridge between the students and the professor,” Corbin said. “The graduate TAs haven’t taken this course in a long time, and many have taken it at different institutions, but I had taken it the previous year, and it was still pretty fresh in my mind.

“Also, I think the undergraduates can relate to me and feel comfortable talking with me, so I can convey their concerns to the faculty members and help them excel.”

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