Dean’s Outstanding Teaching Assistant Prize awarded to Amruta Nayak and Rob Rodriguez

The 2021-2022 Dean’s Outstanding Teaching Assistant Prize for the best performance by a BSD graduate student who is TAing in fulfillment of the Divisional Teaching Requirement was awarded to both Amruta Nayak and Rob Rodriguez, both from the graduate program in Cell and Molecular Biology. In addition, Divisional Teaching Assistant Awards went to Diane Schnitkey, Gabriella Wheeler Fox, and Xingruo (Summer) Zhang.

Amruta Nayak is a fifth-year student in the program in Cell and Molecular Biology. She receives the prize in recognition of her teaching assistantship in MGCB 31700, Cell Biology II, in Winter 2022. Comments from both faculty and her students reflected that she went over and beyond the normal teaching assistant duties, showing a devotion to her students that was truly exceptional. One student commented “Amruta has a really good sense of humor. I truly believe that humor is often an overlooked quality, but humor is so important in establishing a comfortable teaching environment that is conducive to learning. Amruta’s humor helped lighten the mood, break the ice, and made me feel more connected to a class of graduate students … Also, I suspect that Amruta was a big part of what held the entire class together, including the parts she was not explicitly in charge of. She is always on our side and she truly is deserving of the best in life.” Another student commented “Amruta created a very comfortable environment for discussions and was able to keep interest high throughout the quarter. She was also able to explain material in a manner which was helpful for both undergraduate and graduate students.” Finally, from a third student, “She made discussion sections fun and helped us with our proposal presentations in a fun and constructive way.”

Rob Rodriguez is a fourth year student in the program in Cell and Molecular Biology. He receives the prize in recognition of his teaching assistantship in MGCB 31400, Genetic Analysis of Model Organisms. The course director, Doug Bishop, noted that “Rob was exceptionally helpful and proactive in helping keep the class organized.” Student comments noted “Really friendly and approachable and helped me so much with studying the class material and working on problem sets. Really clear at explaining. Maintained an encouraging and engaging environment at his office hours. Really knowledgeable at course content.”  Another student noted that he was “not condescending when answering questions.” Multiple students noted he would extend office hours when needed during particularly busy/stressful times, as well as noting “He was also really accessible by email outside of class hours, and was always willing to explain as much content as necessary to make sure we understood course content.”

The Divisional Teaching Assistantship Award
Diane Schnitkey is a fifth year student in the graduate program in Biophysical Sciences. She shares the Divisional Teaching Assistantship Award for her work in MGCB 32000, Quantitative Analysis of Cellular Dynamics in Spring 2022. She was cited for being super helpful, extremely knowledgeable, and her patience. Her students appreciated her ability to connect with students in a hybrid situation, with both her in-person and virtual students. Other comments stressed her flexibility, her ability to explain difficult concepts, her emails with background information, and her kindness to her students.

Gabriella Wheeler Fox is a third-year student in the graduate program in Computational Neuroscience. She shares the Divisional Teaching Assistantship Award for her teaching in the undergraduate course Systems Neuroscience, NSCI 20130, in Spring 2022. She was cited for her terrific lecture, her ability to explain course content in new and interesting ways, and her quickness in answering questions. One student noted that Gabriella had gone out of her way to keep the student up to date on content after the student had COVID and ongoing health issues during the quarter, and was incredibly kind.

Xingruo (Summer) Zhang is a third-year student in Public Health Sciences. She shares the Divisional Teaching Assistantship Award for her teaching assistantship in Winter 2022, PBHS 33300, Applied Longitudinal Data Analysis.  She was cited for her kindness and warmth to the students, her enthusiasm, and the depth of her knowledge base about the material. Students noted she was proactive in helping both students and instructors as needed, and was very informative and well-organized. Students felt her encouragement and emotional support were very important to their success in the class.

The BSD teaching prize was established in 1996 by the faculty Committee on Teaching Assistants in appreciation and recognition of the enthusiasm and effort that graduate students put into their early teaching experiences. Award of the prize is based on nominations by the students in the course taught by the TA. This year, the decisions were very difficult, as 126 teaching assistants were nominated by their students for the Prize, with 417 total votes; this is a tribute to the dedication of our graduate students as they take on the role of teaching assistant, and illustrating the value placed on teaching in the BSD. Congratulations to all winners!


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