Instead of hosting office hours and addressing students on a one-on-one basis as a teaching assistant, Omanshu Thapliyal and Rolfe Power started fall 2021 standing in front of classrooms of as many as 40 AAE undergraduate students.
In a new role as AAE teaching fellows, Thapliyal and Power needed to make immediate adjustments.
Catering learning to one specific student wasn't an option in this environment. Now, their eyes had to constantly flicker across the room, intent on reading non-verbal cues, gauging whether students were understanding the material. Did they need to change the way they were teaching a concept? Did they need to pause and add more detail, solicit questions? Were they using vernacular consistent with the level of the students?
Each lecture was different and provided an opportunity to learn, to continuously improve, to spontaneously change a teaching method or quickly think of examples students could relate to.
"It has been fantastic," said Power, whose advisor is Kathleen Howell, the Hsu Lo Distinguished Professor of Aeronautics and Astronautics. "The students are inspiring me, and it has been a great joy to introduce the students to a field that I love.
"A key factor in my decision to continue into postgraduate studies was my desire to explore teaching as a career path. The teaching fellowship provides an opportunity to get real experience in front of a classroom of the best and brightest at one of the top engineering schools in the world. It simply is an experience that was too good not to pursue."
That is exactly the point of the fellowship, enabled by a generous donor in October 2019. AAE PhD students are paired with a faculty mentor and instruct a course with the intention that each small step made in the program will move fellows closer to taking the next giant leap in their career.
Applications are submitted to Karen Marais, associate head for undergraduate education, and the School's Curriculum Committee selects the fellows.
Marais, Martin Corless and Joseph Jewell were the mentors for fall 2021. They act as sounding boards, resources and sharers of teaching materials and teaching experiences.
It is an experience Marais cherishes.
"I enjoy mentoring," said Marais, who uses Microsoft Teams to connect with the teaching fellows and help answer any questions they might have. "We all shared things we've learned in our classes, tips and tricks. We all get value out of it, even those of us who have been teaching for a long time. From an associate head perspective, it helps me to make sure we're maintaining the quality of our teaching.
"Being an instructor allows me to interact more with students, design my own course material to a certain degree, and invests in me the responsibility of my own section. It is a great way for me to try out to be an instructor as a phd student."
- Omanshu Thapliyal
"There's a need for instructors, there's a need for quality instruction and there's a need to prepare graduate students for faculty careers. This program is a very conscious effort for us to provide teaching training while meeting a critical department need for quality instruction. It's a win-win situation for everyone."
Teaching fellows are assigned to high-enrollment undergraduate courses with multiple sections. In fall 2021, AAE203, AAE230 and AAE251 had teaching fellows. Power handled 203, Aeromechanics I, under mentor Corless; Thapliyal was assigned Intro to Aerospace Design (251), under Marais; and Nirajan Adhikari taught a section of 333, Fluid Dynamics, under Jewell's guidance. Each mentor is an expert in the particular discipline and has taught the course before.
The fellows are exposed to everything an AAE faculty member would be in their teaching roles. Fellows work with the teaching mentor to prepare assignments, quizzes and exams. They actively plan how to present that material, rather than just reacting to students' questions about what they heard in class, like in a TA role. They do the same level and type of grading as the teaching mentor. They actually instruct courses. They carry the emotional weight of being invested in the students' success.
And then they get instant feedback on all of it from the faculty mentor and students they're teaching, which helps the fellows improve and, even, define their teaching styles.
"Being an instructor allows me to interact more with students, design my own course material to a certain degree, and invests in me the responsibility of my own section. It is a great way for me to try out to be an instructor as a PhD student," said Thapliyal, whose previous TA experience included 251.
"While being a teaching assistant allows us to learn about how the course works, the increased autonomy and responsibility invested in me by the University is a great learning experience."
"A key factor in my decision to continue into postgraduate studies was my desire to explore teaching as a career path. The teaching fellowship provides an opportunity to get real experience in front of a classroom of the best and brightest at one of the top engineering schools in the world."
- Rolfe Power
Interested in supporting the AAE Teaching Fellowship Program? Please contact Rita Baines, chief development officer, at email@example.com or 765-494-9124.