Grad Students receive NAGT Outstanding Teaching Assistant Awards








Universities rely on graduate and undergraduate teaching assistants to enrich collegiate education by assisting professors in creating educational materials and teaching lab classes. With the pandemic forcing educators to reevaluate how college courses are taught, teaching assistants have had to rapidly adapt lab exercises to comply with health-related distance and masking regulations introduced in the past two years. The challenges introduced by this unprecedented shift in teaching modality is exacerbated in the geosciences, where courses often have hands-on lab activities and extensive fieldwork components. In the face of this adversity, ESCI’s teaching assistants have worked tirelessly to develop safe, enriching, and inclusive learning environments for undergraduates. The department is pleased to announce that two of our TAs, Maya Gilchrist and Clémentine Hamelin, have been awarded the National Association of Geoscience Teachers’ January 2022 “Outstanding Teaching Assistant Award,” for their excellence in teaching.

Maya Gilchrist, a M.S. student in the department, received the award for her work as a TA for the university’s oceanography course (ESCI 1006). Maya served as the head TA of the course, which entails leading weekly lab sections as well as directing the activities of the other Oceanography TAs. As Oceanography is an introductory science course, TAs work with large classes comprised of students spanning a wide range of majors throughout the university. When asked about the difficulties of TAing Oceanography, Maya acknowledged the difficulty of communicating complex oceanography concepts to an audience of nonmajors – a challenge that she overcame by utilizing strategies centered on stating the broader implications of each lab exercise, familiarizing students with computational tools, and walking students through data interpretation to help the students visualize oceanographic processes on a global scale. Maya’s innovative teaching techniques coupled with her leadership and organizational skills lead Dr. Bill Seyfried, who has taught Oceanography for over 30 years, to claim that he has, “seldom… witnessed the level of learning by undergraduates that Maya was able to achieve.”

Clémentine Hamelin, a Ph.D. student, was recognized by the NAGT for her excellence in TAing the University’s petrology course (ESCI 2302). Petrology is a core course in undergraduate geoscience degree program and the labs notably focus on the characterization of rocks and minerals in hand sample and microscopic thin section. With the rapid pivot to online teaching in Spring 2020, Clem took on the challenge of creating 3D, rotatable images of all hand samples and thin sections with interactive “hot spot” links from which students could learn about intricate, petrologic structures without ever picking up a rock or using a microscope. Although they searched for online teaching tools available on the internet, Dr. Donna Whitney notes that she and co-instructor Dr. Marc Hirschmann opted to utilize the online teaching modules created by Clem as they were superior relative to online petrology lab resources created by institutions around the world. 

Maya and Clem’s approaches to undergraduate geoscience education have facilitated a fruitful learning environment amid extraordinarily challenging times in higher education. ESCI is fortunate for having remarkable TAs like Maya and Clem who have continuously worked to improve the state of geoscience education at the University of Minnesota.

The NAGT’s Outstanding Teaching Assistant Award is awarded on a semiannual basis to less than 15 geoscience TAs around the world. To learn more about the NAGT, the Outstanding TA Award, past recipients, and details on how to nominate teaching assistants, visit the NAGT website.

January Award

  • Liannie Coral Velázquez Santana, Miami University, Oxford, Ohio
  • Michae Musick, Cabrillo College, Aptos, California
  • Emily Eley, University of South Carolina, Columbia, South Carolina
  • Joyce Smith, North Carolina State University, Raleigh, North Carolina
  • Yorick P. Veenma, Wolfson College, Oxford, England
  • Clementine Hamelin, University of Minnesota Twin Cities, Minneapolis, MN
  • Maya Gilchrist, University of Minnesota Twin Cities, Minneapolis, MN
  • Peter Tereszkiewicz, University of South Carolina, Columbia, South Carolina
  • Kevin Mendoza, University of Utah, Salt Lake City, Utah
  • Jessica Prince, Tennessee Tech University, Cookeville, Tennessee
  • Annie Klyce, University of South Carolina, Columbia, South Carolina

If you are interested in nominating a TA or learning more about NAGT please visit the NAGT website