University Outstanding TA Award: Award Winners


Jenna Ross
History (USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences)

Jenna Ross models professionalism, accessibility, and empathy as a teaching assistant in the USC Dornsife College. A natural teacher, she has shown exemplary initiative and resourcefulness in the classroom and beyond. She combines a keen intellect and solid command of her field with an extraordinarily warm and approachable personality, as well as a playful sense of humor. By breaking down and communicating complex topics with helpful visual aids and stimulating small group discussions, Jenna fosters a stable and organized atmosphere built on crystal-clear expectations and a genuine sense of eager anticipation. Her approach enhances productivity while retaining a high academic standard, allowing students to worry less about logistics and focus more on learning.

Students flock to Jenna seeking her thoughtful guidance and her serious intellectual engagement—a remarkable phenomenon that is noted by several faculty members in her department. She commits an impressive amount of time to working closely with individuals who need additional instruction, as well as generously giving constructive feedback and organizing supplemental review sessions prior to exams. Though Jenna is constantly thinking of ways to support others, she also exemplifies dedication and poise in her own research, earning numerous grants and fellowships while leading USC’s History Graduate Student Association. In every way, she is a beacon for the young scholars for whom she cares so deeply.

In recognition of her compassionate mentorship and her superlative professionalism, the University of Southern California is proud to honor Jenna Ross with a University Outstanding Teaching Assistant Award.

Kamia Smith
Materials Science and Engineering (USC Viterbi School of Engineering)

Kamia Smith is a beloved figure among materials science students and faculty at the Viterbi School—a friendly, relatable, and guiding presence in an especially demanding discipline. Lauded by her graduate advisor as the best teaching assistant he has encountered in his entire three-decade career, Kamia maintains an extraordinary patience that facilitates effective and uplifting classroom interactions. This unique ability to connect with students on a personal level garners extremely favorable reviews of her teaching style. Her conscientious instruction and helpful demeanor are frequently noted on her highly positive end-of-semester evaluations, including one that offered this particularly impassioned assessment of her performance: “Don’t change a thing!”

Kamia possesses a unique and distinguished background that brings a special richness to her role as a teaching assistant. Among her many accomplishments, she was an All-American sprinter as an undergraduate at Wheaton College and served as a graduate engineering tutor at the Center for Engineering Diversity while earning her master’s degree at USC. As a Ph.D. candidate investigating topics such as dislocation dynamics, Kamia has established herself as an exemplar of perseverance and self-confidence in embracing her challenging workload. She remains dedicated to instilling these same qualities in others, especially the local middle school students she mentors as part of a federally-funded outreach program focused on underrepresented populations in STEM fields.

In recognition of her remarkable and enduring commitment to ensuring student success, the University of Southern California is proud to honor Kamia Smith with a University Outstanding Teaching Assistant Award.

Saurov Syed
Linguistics (USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences)

A tremendously versatile and energetic teacher, Saurov Syed possesses a special gift for inspiring students from a broad range of academic backgrounds. Thrice he has earned perfect evaluations spanning multiple courses and professors, proving himself a resourceful and widely admired classroom leader. His students applaud his thorough explanations of complex course material, a practice that ensures a deep and meaningful retention of the information presented in lectures and reading assignments. They extol his presentations as “amazing” and “mesmerizing,” while uniformly praising his exemplary work ethic. As they see it, he “expands the parameters of what someone in his position should be expected to do.”

Saurov’s focused, confidence-building approach to teaching engenders the heartfelt appreciation of his scholarly community. Though he holds numerous responsibilities as a Ph.D. candidate, his students and colleagues recognize the pride that Saurov takes in his role as an instructor. One particular class even surprised him with a unique end-of-semester gift: a handmade card containing their personal messages of thanks, as well as a custom T-shirt featuring an image of the celebrated linguist and philosopher Noam Chomsky. Saurov has been honored with the linguistics department’s Excellence in Teaching award for two consecutive years, and was also named a Teaching Assistant Fellow by the USC Center for Excellence in Teaching to promote his effective methods among his peers.

In recognition of his skilled leadership in the classroom, as well as his genuine devotion to his students, the University of Southern California is proud to honor Saurov Syed with a University Outstanding Teaching Assistant Award.


Tushar Bharati
Economics (USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences)

As an exemplary student and talented instructor, Tushar Bharati has garnered tremendous praise throughout the university for showing young scholars how to move beyond established knowledge and push the boundaries of a given field. His passion for learning through intellectual and creative exchange, and his drive to confront uncertain academic ground make him an adventurous and exemplary instructor. Drawing upon his background and unique perspective, Tushar exposes students to a diverse array of economic concepts, which also heavily influence his primary research interests: human capital, applied econometrics, and development economics.

Tushar first gained teaching experience at an early age while serving as a volunteer for the Society for Advancement in Tribes, Health, Education and Environment—a non-governmental organization that works to advance and empower tribal peoples in India. Hailing from a small community in Jharkhand, India, he is the first person from his village to pursue a doctoral degree. He received his undergraduate degree in economics from the University of Delhi and his master’s degree from the Delhi School of Economics, and has conducted research through programs at the London School of Economics, Fordham University, Franklin and Marshall College, and Monash University.

In recognition of his exceptional contributions to undergraduate education, and the countless students who have benefitted from his guidance, the University of Southern California is proud to honor Tushar Bharati with a University Outstanding Teaching Assistant Award.

Jose Raul Gonzalez Alonso
Physics and Astronomy (Dornsife College of Letters, Arts & Sciences)

Jose Raul Gonzalez Alonso is as enthusiastic, charismatic, and caring as he is intelligent, dedicated, and creative. In order to help students understand the concepts involved in studying physics and astronomy, he developed his own unique approach to student-centered learning. Jose believes that one of the biggest challenges in grasping difficult material stems from trepidation rather than a lack of capability. After observing many USC students with strong educational backgrounds who remain apprehensive about their aptitude for comprehension, he started focusing on in-class exercises to reduce anxiety, and help students feel more comfortable learning at their own pace.

Jose consistently goes above and beyond his regular duties in order to be available, frequently providing additional office hours and study sessions, and sometimes bringing homemade baked goods to his students. Many have found him to be an invaluable source of knowledge and guidance, and someone who can alleviate their worries in order to help them clarify their thinking. Jose has a knack for crafting understandable explanations of complex theories, and often uses real-life applications to illustrate them. He also demonstrates an intuitive understanding of how to tailor information to his audience.

In recognition of his thoughtful mentorship, and his efforts to unlock the potential of his students, the University of Southern California is proud to honor Jose Raul Gonzalez Alonso with a University Outstanding Teaching Assistant Award.

Christopher Muniz
Creative Writing (USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences)

No matter the context—fiction writing, composition, or writing on ethnicity through film—Chris Muniz knows how to inspire his students to engage thoughtfully with their work and excel as writers. Even his syllabi are a pleasure to read, and in his classes he encourages the use of anything—even a scrap of paper—as a journal. Chris promotes creativity and discipline, and peppers his courses with lively exercises that introduce challenging points of view. In Chris’ evaluations, students often cite him as the reason they have come to love writing.

Chris receives the same glowing reviews for all of his courses, proving his ability to help young writers overcome their obstacles to producing work of clarity, depth, and vitality. In addition to USC, Chris has taught at the South Central Scholars Foundation, and has delivered papers three times at composition conferences on related topics. In all he does—his writing, teaching, and scholarship—he continues to deepen academic and creative discourse, and instill in others the excitement he feels for his craft.

In recognition of his incomparable ability to help students write expressively, accurately, and enthusiastically, the University of Southern California is proud to honor Christopher Muniz with a University Outstanding Teaching Assistant Award.


2015: Jiun Bang, International Relations; Renée Jorgensen Bolinger, Philosophy; Bo Cheng Jin, Aerospace and Mechanical Engineering;

2014: Chih-Chieh Hsu; Electrical Engineering; Young Ji Kim, Communication; Simon Radford,International Relations;

2013: Amir Awad Allam, Earth Sciences; Xiao He, Linguistics; Míchel Angela Martinez,Political Science;

2012: John Kwak, Philosophy; Lucille Toth-Colombie, French & Italian; Fabian Rojas Barrales, Civil & Environmental Engineering;

2011: Tameen Albash, Physics and Astronomy; Rook Campbell, Political Science; Jingyu Xue, East Asian Languages and Cultures;

2010: Sean Loyd, Earth Sciences; Meredith Drake Reitan, Policy, Planning and Development; and James Rowlins, French & Italian;

2009: Pao-Chen Li, Biological Sciences; Zlatina Sandalska, Slavic Languages & Literatures; and Bernard A. Steinman, Gerontology

2008: Tabitha Ann Esther, Earth Sciences; Anca Ioana Lasc, Art History; Michal Temkin Martinez, Linguistics

2007: Nicolas R. Buccola, Political Science; Lorraine Leon, Earth Sciences; Richard B. Souza, Biokinesiology and Physical Therapy

2006: Katie Mussack, Physics and Astronomy, and Candace Cherie Weddle, Art History, and Mary Jeanne Wilson, Critical Studies

2005: Mathew Curtis, Psychology

2004: Marisa Perdomo, Biokinesiology & Physical Therapy

2003: E. Del Chrol, Classics

2002: Peter Countway, Biological Sciences

2001: Rebecca Heino, Communication, and Tina Tan, Cell & Neurobiology

2000: Thomas Cantwell, History

1999: Suzanne Curtin, Linguistics

1998: Michael Jon Khandelwal, Professional Writing Program

1997: Jay Vavra, Biological Sciences

1996: Sigrun Pabst, Mathematics

1995: Susan L. Bower, Biological Sciences

1994: Elizabeth Semele Yuan, Geological Sciences

1993: Seth Kumi, Geography

1992: Carol M. Tang, Geological Sciences

1991: Gregory G. Curtin, Political Science & Freshman Writing Program