Graduate students on the frontline of undergraduate learning

Jeffrey Neo stand infront of his research poster

Jeffrey Neo, a doctoral student studying Human Behavior and Design within Human Ecology’s Department of Design + Environmental Analysis, has served as a Teaching Assistant (TA) for seven semesters and helped to instruct ten classes of various sizes and formats, including studios, seminars, and lectures.

“For me, I think that being a TA has so much impact in terms of affecting and making students interested in the materials,” he said. “It’s this so called desire that makes it enjoyable for me and an enriching experience for students.”

According to Neo, his role as a TA primarily boils down to one question: How do I make students’ lives easier and make them more engaged or have an easier time with the class materials?

Accessible

Because TAs often teach smaller subgroups of students taking larger courses, they have a greater ability as instructors to connect with undergraduates. It is this greater one-on-one time, according to Neo, that allows TAs to play an impactful role on a student’s level of engagement in a class.

“Over the years, I have developed the reputation of being the ‘TA who always has his door open,’ which I believe fosters a welcoming and all-inclusive learning culture,” he said. “From experience, keeping your door open helps students see me as more accessible and come by to say ‘hi.’ Over a semester, brainstorming ideas or giving feedback about the learning experience, it really helps to build a rapport between myself and students.”

Advocate

Often times, these relationships provide TAs with insights into the student experience that helps them recognize a student struggling with a class. Based on discussing with students one-on-one, Neo said he can see where difficulties are coming from and will discuss with faculty.

“I see myself as an advocate for students, to be able to tell professors, ‘I think this is too much or we need to take a step back,’ or ‘how can we make this a little more manageable?’” he said. “Because of this, I see TAs as the first line of response, making sure that students are up to date with class materials, or even the ability to cope with the class.”

Attention

Many of the classes Neo TAs for tend to be more elective classes, he said. These courses receive a lot of interests from students both inside and outside of Human Ecology and D+EA. Because of this, Neo recognizes that some students may need more support than others.

“I usually identify these students after a few weeks and actually reach out to them to encourage them to come to my office hours just to touch base, see how they are doing and if they have any questions,” he said. “I see a lot of them being interested in the materials, but because they don’t come from a design background, they might worry and struggle. I really think about how I can help them engage and stay on track with class materials throughout the semester.”

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Increasing graduate fellowship funding is one of Human Ecology’s top priorities because of its importance to the College’s continued success. For more information on how you can show your support through giving, contact Sharon Tuttle at smt23@cornell.edu