Excellence in Teaching Award recognizes Purdue graduate students’ contributions to advancing the university’s learning mission

Graduate students are not just students, as their title may suggest. Many are also teachers, contributing to the innovative, world-class education for which Purdue is known. To recognize their significant contributions to the University’s learning mission, each year, the Graduate School awards three graduate teaching assistants with the Graduate School Excellence in Teaching Award. This award, which is considered the highest honor given to Purdue teaching assistants, is based on three major criteria, including 1) excellence in teaching, 2) excellence in student/ colleague mentoring, and 3) dedication to professional development and community engagement focused on teaching. Recipients are recognized at an awards ceremony and receive a $1,000 prize.

The three graduate students selected to receive this year’s Excellence in Teaching Award were:

  • Charlotte Lee, a Ph.D. Candidate in Ecological Sciences & Engineering Interdisciplinary Graduate Program (ESE-IGP) and the Department of Agronomy, College of Agriculture
  • Mohammadhasan (Movey) Sasar, a Ph.D. Candidate in the Lyles School of Civil Engineering, College of Engineering
  • Casey E. Wright, a Ph.D. Candidate in the College of Science’s Department of Chemistry

Charlotte Lee

Charlotte Lee’s research uses modeling to study agricultural subsurface (tile) drainage across the Midwest and the impacts of drainage water recycling on regional streamflow. She has served on the Soil Science instructional team for six semesters, where she challenges students to build connections between coursework, their lives, and society.

Charlotte Lee standing in front of trees
Charlotte Lee, a Ph.D. Candidate in the College of Agriculture and 2022 Excellence in Teaching Award Recipient 

In her teaching philosophy, Charlotte wrote, “I perceive the purpose of education to be more than just content mastery and application, it should foster critical thinking and problem-solving skills that can be transferred outside of the classroom. My teaching philosophy centers on experiential learning, clear communication of learning objectives that are tied to student assessment, and adaptive teaching. I also believe it is important to integrate caring into science education, so students can engage with course materials…As an educator, I feel it is key to make such opportunities accessible to all students despite differences in physical abilities, learning abilities, or socioeconomic status…Diversity is honored in my classroom; all students are treated with respect and my goal is they should feel welcomed and listened to.”

One of Charlotte’s students shared the following, “Charlotte was great at meeting students where they were with their understanding of soils and made sure students got the important information to be successful.” 

Charlotte looks forward to a career where she can incorporate her passions for teaching and mentorship with her research interests in sustainable management/use of agricultural water resources and climate change. 

Mohammadhasan (Movey) Sasar

The next recipient, Mohammadhasan (Movey) Sasar, researches mine waste streams consisting mostly of clay minerals. He believes in the importance of continuously learning new pedagogical techniques and methods to influence his teaching and has spent over five years as a teaching assistant for Engineering Mechanics and Geotechnical Engineering courses.

Mohammadhasan (Movey) Sasar, a Ph.D. Candidate in the Lyles School of Civil Engineering and 2022 Excellence in Teaching Award Recipient  

In his teaching philosophy, Movey wrote, “My main goal in undergraduate teaching is to help students develop a conceptual understanding of the theory and practice offered in the course and to give them the opportunity to apply their knowledge in multiple ways. The hallmark of engineering education is when the students develop an intuition for mathematical models. I believe that this can be achieved through a good combination of effective lecturing (delivery of the material), aligning content and assessment, and increasing student motivation…Studying learning theories and practices along with years of service in CEGSAC (Civil Engineering Graduate Student Advisory Council) have made me a strong believer that student motivation is the most important factor in driving students to excel and learn.”

To help motivate students, Movey established CEGSAC’s Emerging Leaders Lecture series to connect with their successful peers. This series helps Purdue Civil Engineering alumni in leadership positions connect with current students to share their experiences and answer questions.

One of Movey’s students shared, “Movey was the teaching assistant in my first geotechnical engineering course at Purdue. As a student looking to pursue a graduate degree and a career in geotechnical engineering, I was impressed by Movey’s passion and expertise in the discipline. Movey was always clear in explaining the theory and then applying it to the laboratory tasks we were assigned to complete. His approachable personality and teaching style resulted in a great learning environment, which particularly motivated me to ask questions beyond the scope of the class.”

Casey Wright

Casey Wright’s research examines how STEM higher education organizes the experiences of parenting women in STEM doctoral programs. Her previous projects have focused on science identity and the affordances joking has for supporting science learning in an afterschool science program for resettled Burmese refugee high school students.

Casey Wright, a Ph.D. Candidate in the College of Science and 2022 Excellence in Teaching Award Recipient  

In her teaching statement, Casey wrote, “My teaching philosophy is informed by the importance of seeing students as whole and complex persons when they arrive in the lab or classroom. For me, teaching is about facilitating student engagement with science and that their science learning should be supported beyond the bounds of the course. It is important to foster students’ identification with the material alongside critical thinking skills. In this, instruction should challenge students to seek out their own answers while also providing them a space that is psychologically safe to fail and ask questions...In facilitating active learning, I remain mindful of challenges to equity and attend to how to make the classroom more inclusive through a commitment to democratic education. My focus on equity and inclusion guides the methods and contexts that I use for teaching science. I work to model respect for each student and hope to facilitate spaces where students can bring their whole selves to the space to collaboratively build knowledge together.”

As a teaching assistant, Casey consistently received positive evaluations from her students, averaging a 4.7/5 on her student evaluations. One of Casey’s students shared, “Many times in lab she displayed a patient understanding that worked with the students to produce cohesive learning of any topic we discussed. Not to mention that her attitude was very relatable and kind and made her a joy to have as a TA. If she could TA every subject I took while I was at Purdue, I would be thrilled.”

While their teaching methods may have varied, these three graduate students exemplified what it means to persistently pursue excellence in teaching. Despite the many responsibilities that graduate students must often juggle, these students were dedicated to advancing the University’s learning mission by improving the learning experience of students at Purdue. This award is a testament to their grit, innovation, and dedication to building a better world through pedagogy. 

Writer: Brittany Ledman

May 24, 2022

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