University Outstanding TA Award: Award Winners
USC Department of Linguistics
Reed Blaylock is an enthusiastic and inspiring teacher in Dornsife College. His students extol his virtues because he has the ability to “make learning fun,” to quote one of their comments. He has developed a “student-centered” style of teaching that involves first leading students to individually discover problems and questions that interest and excite them, and then learning the tools that let them go about answering the questions in ways that are tailored to their own learning styles. He is able to connect up these individual discoveries to the content of the classes using a variety of innovative methods. Students come away from his classes excited about science, excited about learning more and confident in their own abilities to pursue their questions.
In recognition of his devotion to his students and his ability to inspire students to wonder, inquire, and learn in diverse ways, the University of Southern California is proud to honor Reed Blaylock with a University Outstanding Teaching Assistant Award.
Alexander Dmitri Lusk
Earth Sciences (Dornsife College of Letters, Arts & Sciences)
Alex has been Earth Sciences’ most consistently outstanding and versatile TA in recent years, having taught labs for four different courses over the last four years and excelling at all of them. He also created and taught his own course, Exploring California’s National Parks, as a Provost’s Mentored Teaching Fellow. Each new course meant an enormous amount of extra preparation, but Alex welcomed – and in fact sought– each new assignment, and designed new lab lessons and exercises and upgraded materials for them. These labs reached a varied audience – GE, upper-division geology majors, and Environmental Studies majors — but the evaluation scores and comments are uniformly in the highest range. Alex also instituted the use of drones and tablets while leading undergrad field trips, guiding students in using them to create 3D terrain mapping from aerial photography in mountainous regions. He accompanied our Maymester field course to Argentina and was an invaluable resource and mentor to students. He is also co-advising two undergrads in their senior thesis research projects. Alex is a quiet, serious fellow who has a ferocious work ethic, a knack for making everything run smoothly, and dedication to his students, by whom he is well loved.
English (Dornsife College of Letters, Arts & Sciences)
With her remarkable expertise in the realms of contemporary literature and Twentieth Century Poetry and Poetics, Sarah Vap has personally guided her students through the complexities and pleasures of American poetry. Herself a prize-winning author of five collections of poetry and one volume of essays on poetics, Sarah Vap represents the exceptional pedagogical and professional accomplishments of USC’s remarkable and dedicated Teaching Assistants.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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