University Outstanding TA Award: Award Winners


Elisabeth Shimada
Sociology (Dornsife College of Letters, Arts & Sciences)

Elisabeth ‘Elisa’ Shimada has been recognized by USC’s administration and students for her teaching accomplishments. Her students praise her contagious passion for sociology and genuine care for their mental wellbeing and academic success. As a result, USC has awarded Elisa with the General Education Graduate Assistant Award and USC’s Mentored Teaching Fellowship. Elisa’s teaching is informed by her training in the Knapsack Institute for Social Justice Pedagogy and the Future Faculty Training Program run by USC’s Center for the Excellence in Teaching. Over the last two years, she has served as a judge for USC’s Undergraduate Research Symposium, facilitated educational workshops on sexual assault and intimate partner violence, mentored several undergraduate research assistants, and currently co-chairs the teaching subcommittee for her department’s Graduate Student Association. Elisa attributes her success to all her students, past and present, who inspire and motivate her to finish the long road to the PhD.

Emily Sung
Choral and Sacred Music and Musicology (Thornton School of Music)

For her work as Associate Conductor of Oriana Choir and as Teaching Assistant in USC’s GE offerings, specifically in Electronic Music and Dance Culture, Emily Sung has been awarded the Outstanding Graduate Teaching Assistant Award. Emily assisted her classes and the choir in exemplary ways every semester for three years, from fall 2019 to spring 2022, supporting well over 550 students in the process. While a doctoral student in choral music, Emily was committed as a TA to the study of electronic music and connecting with her GE students. She collaborated with the instructor in transitioning the course to an online format, while making sure to provide students support in managing studies during the pandemic. Her openness culminated in her designing a guest lecture on the electronic usages of the voice, which built on her expertise in choral music. This lecture was a highlight during each semester. Her attention to fair grading and to caring for student well-being were likewise impeccable, and as a result, the students in her classes thrived. For that, we thank her for her commitment to excellence in music and the liberal arts at USC.

Junxiong Yin
Data Science and Operations (Marshall School of Business)

Junxiong is a 4th-year doctoral candidate in Operations Management and acted as the sole course TA for approximately 800 students in 12 sections of BUAD 311 (a required undergraduate core class) in Fall 2021. He later taught as an instructor for the same course in Fall 2022. The Fall of 2021 was a challenging time for students transitioning back from online to in-person learning, and Junxiong went above and beyond to support his students with that transition. His students
repeatedly describe him as patient, clear, and approachable.


Josh Allbright
Classics (Dornsife College of Letters, Arts & Sciences)

As a teacher of Classics and ancient languages, Josh contributes to the student learning experience by encouraging critical thinking skills that allow students to ask important questions about today’s world. He is talented at relating ancient material to modern-day examples and at breaking down complex concepts to facilitate in-depth discussion. He is clear and organized, passionate and highly knowledgeable, and always knows when to add a touch of humor. He also cares about amplifying marginalized voices. Josh rapidly identifies when students are lost and devises learning activities to leave no one behind. Thinking about education is a central preoccupation of him, from ancient Athens to contemporary America. Josh has been innovating in the classroom by introducing language games in his Latin and Greek classes partly inspired by modern language pedagogy. The safe learning environment he creates allows students to engage genuinely with the material and to discuss sensitive issues.

Aireale Rodgers
Urban Education Policy (Rossier School of Education)

Aireale has served as an outstanding teaching assistant for three Rossier School of Education courses. Aireale employs an explicit anti-racist approach to teaching with three core commitments: 1)enacting Black feminist pedagogies of radical love; 2) cultivating learning communities where students can be knowers and learners; and 3) routinely providing personalized and scaffolded formative feedback to her students. She has routinely collaborated with faculty to significantly revamp the curriculum and pedagogy, including amending the course’s scope and sequence to better scaffold assignments and learning objectives and supporting the transition to an online context during COVID-19. Students consistently share how excellent of a teacher she is, appreciating her collaborative, constructivist approaches. As a Black woman unabashedly dedicated to the liberation of her students, she establishes a culture of mutual care and concern, intentionally affirming her students’ humanity and making space for them to bring their whole selves to the learning process.

Basel Shbita
Computer Science (Viterbi School of Engineering)

Mr. Basel Shbita is a PhD candidate in the CS department and a GRA at USC Information Science Institute. He served twice as TA in a graduate-level class, which consisted of graduate students from different disciplines at Viterbi. He was an outstanding advisor to the students and a catalyst to their success. Beyond his duties of designing weekly quizzes and assignments and holding office hours, he helped design a new curriculum for the course and delivered several complete lectures by himself. He continuously engaged with the students, offered them dedicated worksheets to cultivate their time-management skills, and hosted technical sessions to bridge knowledge gaps. He successfully adapted to the dynamic work environment during the pandemic; he integrated the required modifications to accommodate students’ and instructors’ needs. Furthermore, he supported two groups of students to publish their class projects in academic conferences after the class ended, a truly exceptional achievement.


Mary Ippolito
Sociology (Dornsife College of Letters, Arts & Sciences)

Mary Ippolito’s students respond to her deep foundational knowledge and mastery of the subjects that she teaches and the sincere interest and compassion that she demonstrates regarding her students’ academic progress, learning about their life experiences, and their overall well-being. With her experience and training as an academic mentor to students before she entered graduate school, Ippolito effectively reaches out to students who are struggling academically or having trouble adjusting to college life. In addition, constantly working to improve her teaching skills, Ippolito participates in CET’s weekly Future Faculty Teaching Institute, and is a member of the American Sociological Association’s Teaching and Learning Journal Nominations Committee, where she learns about exemplary professors and their work as teachers and mentors. In summary, Ippolito is a dedicated and effective teacher who continually strives to advance her teaching skills and is devoted to helping students achieve academic success and develop their life skills.

Maya Yanez
Earth Sciences (Dornsife College of Letters, Arts & Sciences)

Maya is Earth Sciences’ most consistently outstanding and versatile TA, having taught labs for three different courses in as many semesters, and excelling at all of them. She wrote new, greatly improved lab lesson plans and instituted new, interactive online technology. She is a born teacher who hits that perfect balance between being clear, helpful, and accessible. She spends an enormous amount of time on her teaching, including extensive interactions with her students outside of scheduled class time, helping them with the sometimes-challenging material. Another factor that contributes to Maya’s success as a teacher is that she is adept at relating to students from every background, taking everyone seriously and treating them all with respect, no matter what their backgrounds. Maya has taken a leadership role in many outreach projects and in promoting inclusion and equality at USC, chairing the department’s Culture and Climate Committee and organizing several training sessions.

Madeline Thayer
Classics (Dornsife College of Letters, Arts & Sciences)

For Madeline, learning is a joyful process and she is able to transmit her enthusiasm to her students, whether teaching Latin grammar and morphology to beginners or Classical myths and Roman history and culture to GE students. She challenges the students by discussing concepts and ideas from different points of view, keeps them engaged and also brings all the support needed, always available to help students brainstorming ideas for papers or revising exam questions. She makes sure everybody is included by creating a friendly learning atmosphere and her genuine desire for all students to succeed in the class and beyond has been emphasized in the student feedback. She is clear, organized and professional, all qualities that contribute, in addition to her passion for the material, to the successful learning experience of her students. She truly is a gifted and devoted teacher.


Nina Christie
Psychology (Dornsife College of Letters, Arts & Sciences)

Nina Christie is the kind of teacher that impacts students’ learning as well as their lives. As a TA for Drugs, Behavior, & Society, she doesn’t just lead organized and engaging lab sections. She takes a leadership role among the course’s TAs and makes an active effort to match any interested students to psychology research labs. But Nina doesn’t just excel as a TA. For the past two years, she has served as the instructor of record for My Mind and Me, a summer pre-college course on mental health promotion, which students cite as “one of [the] greatest academic experiences” they’ve ever had. Unsurprisingly, Nina has already been recognized with a Certificate of Distinction in Teaching from UCLA and, just last year, she was selected to present at the National Institute on the Teaching of Psychology. We are truly so fortunate to have a teacher of Nina’s caliber.

Zhanerke Temirgaliyeva
Mathematics (Dornsife College of Letters, Arts & Sciences)

Zhanerke Temirgaliyeva has been a TA for the Mathematics Department’s most difficult classes, and is able to explain the material clearly and carefully to the students, as well as spending a lot of time outside of class to help them. Her students say she is very kind and super helpful. Her supervising professors are uniformly enthusiastic and think she is a superb TA. Overall, Zhanerke ranks at the top of our 80 math TAs.

David Velasquez
Urban Education Policy (Rossier School of Education))

David has numerous qualities as a scholar and educator that positions him strongly to receive this honor. First, as a first-generation Latino male high school math teacher, he not only understands the complexity of urban high schools but has spent numerous years teaching and supporting other first-generation students learn the math that they needed to graduate from high school and succeed in college. Second, he is someone who genuinely cares about crafting the art of teaching. He has attended all the in-person seminars offered by the CET and in addition he has benefited from additional professional development opportunities granted to the Bill & Melinda Gates Scholars program. Third, as we team up to teach the graduate course, David was always attentive to design multiple learning opportunities for the students to grasp the complexity of the concepts studied. He was particularly attentive in creating workshops related to every single part of a final assignment, as a way to scaffold learning and support the students as they wrote an AERA paper proposal -the major conference in our field. He became and still is a key resource for the cohort of students who took this course.


Alfred Brown
Creative Writing (Dornsife College of Letters, Arts & Sciences)

Whether it be creative writing, composition, or writing about emotion in language, Alfred Brown stands in front of a class ready to challenge the students’ assumptions and open up their worlds. He uses music to talk about form, and writing to talk about the unknown, and all topics he engages have connections to larger questions about meaning. In his evaluations, students say that although Al is not an easy grader, the discussions were some of the best, if not the best, they’d ever had in a class, and that he pushed them toward substance. He is a writer himself, working on fiction and nonfiction, with interests in photography, music, and scholarship, and this wide-ranging curiosity about the world translates directly and joyfully to the classroom.

Douglas Fleming
Spatial Sciences Institutes (Dornsife College of Letters, Arts & Sciences)

Douglas Fleming exemplifies the best qualities in a Teaching Assistant: innovation of in-class activities and delivery of course material through face-to-face and hands-on experiences using exciting and interesting formats; high-quality lesson planning that requires additional research on teaching, continuously supporting the lecturer by noting new topics of interest in every lecture and bringing those ideas into the Discussion sections for further analysis; thoughtful consideration of all students’ questions and concerns in the classroom and during office hours as well as through extra office meetings per students’ schedules; meticulous regard for meeting the course learning objectives as laid out in the syllabus; encouragement of students to attend talks and events outside of lectures that reinforce and expand upon lessons learned in the lectures, attending the talks himself; and a sincere effort to improve upon his teaching skills in hopes of achieving the best possible student learning outcomes.

Lizette Solorzano Perez
Sociology (Dornsife College of Letters, Arts & Sciences)

Lizette Solorzano is an innovative and versatile teacher. Lizette’s goal in teaching is not simply to teach facts and increase knowledge, but also to sensitize students to social contexts and life experiences distinct than their own. That is, she coaches them through a learning process that can enhance emotional intelligence and reflective skills concerning issues of equity, justice, and sustainability they can then later apply in their fields. To accomplish this, she takes time to learn her students’ backgrounds, motivations for taking the class, and post-graduate goals. She makes concrete links between the students’ learning and their future careers.


Reed Blaylock
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.

Sarah Vap
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.


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

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