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Graduate-student teaching takes center stage
Stellar GSIs, and faculty who mentor them, earn their due in campus awards ceremonies

| 05 May 2004

The contributions of graduate student instructors and the faculty who mentor their development as teachers are being amply celebrated this month, in two award ceremonies sponsored by the Graduate Division’s GSI Teaching and Resource Center.

An event held Monday at Alumni House honored five recipients of the 2004 Faculty Award for Outstanding Mentorship of GSIs. This year, for the first time, nominations for the award came directly from GSIs themselves and departmental chairs, and the California Alumni Association contributed a monetary award for each of the winners. Five faculty, selected from among 21 nominees, were honored with the award. They are Michael Clancy, a lecturer in electrical engineering and computer sciences; Kevis Goodman, associate professor of English; lecturer Gail Offen-Brown, of College Writing Programs; Stephen Tobriner, professor of architecture; and Martin Berman, a lecturer in theater, dance, and performance studies.

In describing his mentoring philosophy, Berman compares the mentoring role to that of a theatrical director: “In the theatre,” he says, “a director brings about a fully realized performance by paying diligent attention to detail, and through continuous repetition and rehearsal. So, too, the development of the GSI must begin early and have continuous reinforcement and support. Like any good director, I devote a great deal of time and attention to the rehearsal process. A year before teaching assignments are given out, I meet with interested graduate students to assess their capabilities. Once they are chosen, we set out to develop a comprehensive syllabus that will operate within the course guidelines.”

Offen-Brown was honored not for her mentoring of GSIs in a single class, but for developing and teaching a rigorous 300-level course designed to demystify the teaching of college-level composition; she has also expanded on that work to make the course applicable to GSIs teaching reading and composition in a wide variety of fields.

Statements of mentoring philosophy from award recipients can be found on the website of the GSI Teaching and Resource Center, gsi.berkeley.edu (select “Awards”).

The May 3 ceremony also honored stellar GSIs themselves. Recipients of the 2004 Outstanding GSI Award were selected by their departments based primarily on student evaluations and nominations from faculty. The names of all 200-plus grad-student winners can be found on the GSI Teaching and Resource Center website.

Teaching Effectiveness Award
Roughly 400 recipients of this GSI award — the current year’s crop and last year’s — were invited to apply for a further honor, the campus’s Teaching Effectiveness Award. Winners of this prestigious annual GSI award will be honored on May 17 at the Women’s Faculty Club, in an event set to begin at 4 p.m.

In applying for this competitive prize, graduate student instructors submit essays identifying a pedagogical problem they’ve encountered, how they addressed it, and how they tested and assessed its effectiveness. Based on these essays, the Graduate Council’s Advisory Committee for GSI Affairs (the Graduate Council being a committee of Berkeley’s Academic Senate) has selected 16 winners from among about 100 applicants.

Their essays will be posted on the GSI Teaching and Resource Center’s website, for the benefit of other instructors. Essays from past recipients, also found there, offer a window into the classroom experiences that GSIs share with Berkeley undergrads, as their titles — “The Zen of Reductions: How to Understand Computers by Becoming One,” “The Renaissance Lyric Poem as Pop Culture,” or “Transforming Quizzes into Teaching and Learning Tools” — suggest. Winners of the Teaching Effectiveness Award receive a $500 stipend provided by the Graduate Division.

GSI-development policy
Linda von Hoene, director of the GSI Teaching and Resource Center, notes that these various honors together reflect and support the campus’s commitment to preparing graduate students to teach — both here at Berkeley (where each semester some 1,600 GSIs lead discussion sections, labs, and stand-alone courses for undergraduates) and in their future careers.

Berkeley’s policy on GSI mentoring requires that, beginning in fall 2004, all new GSIs must successfully complete an online course on professional ethics and standards, all departments must offer GSIs a seminar on teaching, and all new GSIs must take such a course. It also says that faculty assisted by graduate student instructors must provide regular mentorship and guidance to these GSIs.

“To the best of my knowledge,” says Hoene, “no other research university in the country has such a policy. It is providing a model for other research universities nationwide.”

Four faculty who have provided outstanding research mentorship to GSIs were honored in a third ceremony, sponsored by the Graduate Assembly and reported on by the Berkeleyan last week.