Nomination Letter from Dr. Andrew Norton
It is with great pleasure that I recommend Christa Fettig for the 20123 Charles N. Shepardson Graduate Student Teaching Award. Christa is a truly dedicated and talented teacher and I can think of no one more deserving of this recognition.
We recruited Christa to work in BSPM on the ecology and evolution of invasive weeds. She has been a fantastic graduate student and will defend her dissertation next fall. As part of her fellowship here she has been required to teach once a year. She has become one of the best teaching assistants the department has had over this time.
Christa has taught in LIFE 320, BSPM 302 and AGIRI / IE 116 (Plants and Civilizations). It is in this last class that I am most familiar with her work. AGRI /IE 116 is a challenging class to teach. The class meets twice a week in standard lecture format and then once a week in smaller groups for active learning activities and group discussion. Each TA has 3 sect5ions of approximately 28 students. Although this class is a freshman level course, approximately 25% of the students are juniors and seniors. We have students from all colleges in the university taking this class to fulfill the AUCC global and cultural awareness requirement.
This heterogeneous group of students (by age, class level, major, background) is challenging. One of the requirements for the course is an 8-page term paper on the plant of the student’s choice. Some of the students Christa had to work with were first semester freshmen, others, juniors or seniors from the college of liberal arts. Helping these students become better writers is a daunting task. Christa needed to devote an immense amount of time to individual instruction here. The skills that a senior need to work on are simply not the same as that for a freshman. Christa excelled at this area of instruction. Her boundless enthusiasm and willingness to meet with students whenever she could meant that all students had detailed feedback during the writing process. She provided feedback on their research and sources for the paper, on their proposed thesis and background for the paper and then once the paper was complete. I surely wish that I had had such a teaching assistant when I was an undergraduate and struggling with my first college level paper. One student wrote on her evaluation: “This TA gave important criterions and ideas for improving our essay assignment. A huge chore considering the number of students. The treatment and time she gave to my paper was as though there were only 5 or 6 of us, not 80 or so. Should I ever have the chance to TA a course, I hope that I can aspire to that level.”
Leading sections with such a diverse set of students is also challenging because much of the learning comes through discussion and group interaction. Ensuring that all students are comfortable participating is extremely important. Freshmen are often intimidated by seniors. Seniors can be dismissive of freshmen. Christa created a safe place for discussion this with humor (relaxing the class), enthusiasm, and games. Reading through the comments on Christa’s student evaluations this is very apparent:
“Never change Christa. If all TA’s were like you this world would be a better place.”
“I loved how passionate Christa is about teaching this subject. It is very apparent that she puts a lot of time and effort into her lectures. She really cares about her students being able to learn the material in an innovative, creative way.”
“I loved coming to recitation and I usually hate recitations and think they’re a waste of time. Not this one! You were great!”
“…I also loved your enthusiasm and personality, you make it fun to come to class (especially with your games, and jokes)…”
“Christa is a great recitation teacher, one of the best I have had in my college career”
“She is very enthusiastic about the course and it makes the whole class very enjoyable. She has a kind and personable personality which is a great quality in a teacher to make students feel comfortable.”
As one student above put it, if every TA was as talented and enthusiastic as Christa AGRI 116 and the world would be a better place.
Christa put in extra time after the course was over. She took it upon herself to re-write the courses teaching manual, and at the start of this semester she delivered to me and this semester’s TAs a folder containing all of the slides she used in class last fall, a set of video clips and other resources that she found useful to get the class enthused and copies of all handouts she had prepared. This level of enthusiasm after the end of the course is unprecedented.
In summary, Christa is a gifted communicator and outstanding teacher. Her student comments all emphasize that she is caring and compassionate and really puts her students first. Of the nearly 20 comments she received on her evaluations (from a total of 72 students), all give her glowing praise. I have no hesitation in giving my enthusiastic endorsement of Christa’s nomination.