About the Editors
The editing team is composed of the program director, Dr. Donna Westfall-Rudd, and two previous teaching assistants for the Graduate Teaching Scholars program within the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (CALS) at Virginia Tech: Dr. Courtney Vengrin was part of the first cohort of Scholars who created the program, and Dr. Jeremy Elliott-Engel conducted the first extensive evaluation of the program as part of his assistantship. This collective work informed the continued development and improvement of the program.
Donna Westfall-Rudd, Ph.D. Planning and teaching formal and nonformal educational experiences for adults in agriculture is my passion! While I was a high school agriculture teacher in upstate New York I served three years as part of a group of teacher leaders who planned and conducted the annual professional development programs for agricultural education teachers. I really enjoyed being a part of the planning work and this interest guided my decision to leave the high school classroom after seven years, to serve as the State Coordinator for Agricultural Education. During my ten years as state coordinator I worked with a group of teachers and state staff to design and implement a number of professional development programs to address the needs of new and experienced agricultural education teachers. I am very thankful that I am able to continue working with program planning as a part of my faculty responsibilities in Agricultural, Leadership, and Community Education at Virginia Tech. In 2012 I was appointed the Program Director and Senior Faculty Scholar for the new Graduate Teaching Scholars Program (GTS). I’ve worked collaboratively with the GTS students, and their faculty mentors to create this very unique three-year program for doctoral students from across the departments in CALS. Acceptance in the program is competitive and is designed for graduate students who want to focus on developing their teaching skills along with their research knowledge and skills.
Courtney Vengrin, Ph.D. I serve as the Senior Director of Assessment of the International Council for Veterinary Assessment (ICVA). In my role, I conduct research on assessment practices, conduct a variety of data analyses, and develop data visualizations. I am originally from Southwest Virginia, where I earned a B.S. in Biology at Radford University, and then an M.S. in Agricultural Extension Education and a Ph.D in Agricultural Leadership and Community Education at Virginia Tech. Following completion of my Ph.D., I was a postdoctoral research fellow who specialized in academic assessments working under the Vice Provost for Undergraduate Academic Affairs at Virginia Tech. Upon completion of my postdoc, I relocated to Ames, Iowa to become the Coordinator of Assessment and Faculty Development at Iowa State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine. During my time at Iowa State, I worked to reshape the assessment and faculty development services offered and created the office of Curricular Assessment and Teaching Support services, where I was named Director. I am the 2020 recipient of the Frederick Douglass Patterson Diversity and Inclusion Award at Iowa State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine and I was recently selected as one of the 12 most impactful women on Iowa State’s campus.
Jeremy Elliott-Engel, Ph.D. As a young person I joined 4-H where I grew in my knowledge of agriculture but also became interested in sharing this knowledge with my peers and 4-H families. I organized clinics and workshops across my project areas. This was my first introduction to non-formal education. This interest for improving people’s lives through knowledge transfer, even as the areas of interest have morphed from the topic of animal science to youth development, has been constant across my professional Extension education career. I completed a Ph.D. in Agricultural, Leadership, and Community Education at Virginia Tech after serving as the teaching assistant for Graduate Teaching Scholars. I currently serve as Arizona Cooperative Extension Associate Director—4-H Youth Development and Associate Extension Specialist in Agricultural Education, Technology, and Innovation with The University of Arizona. Originally from Upstate New York I earned a B.T. in Agricultural Business Management from S.U.N.Y. Cobleskill and M.A.T. from Cornell University. I worked with University of Missouri Extension as a 4-H Youth Development Regional Specialist in Newton, McDonald, and Barry counties.
Hannah Angel, M.S. Currently, I am a graduate teaching assistant in the School of Plant and Environmental Sciences at Virginia Tech (VT). I started my assistantship in the fall of 2017. Following in Emily Ott’s footsteps, I became the lead TA of Soils Laboratory in the fall of 2018. As Emily worked toward finishing up her doctorate, she trained me on the setup for each activity for Soils Laboratory. These labs vary in design, but all include hands-on exercises, primarily in the lab room but with a few outdoor field trips. While completing my Master of Science in Forestry at Stephen F. Austin State University, I taught Dendrology for six semesters. All labs were taught outdoors, either on or off-campus. I gained experience leading groups of students in an outdoor environment with various distractions and weather conditions. As a graduate student at VT, I learned how to adapt my teaching style to a medium-sized indoor lab room. Soils Lab is unique in that it involves a combination of lab and field activities and projects and requires the help of several TAs due to a large number of sections per week.
Ghadir Asadi, Ph.D. I am an Adjunct Professor at Radford University. I received my Ph.D. in Economics from Virginia Tech. During my graduate studies, I had the chance to teach multiple courses of different class sizes. I had my first experience in teaching large classes in the third semester of my teaching journey. Standing in front of 280 eyes, it was the time that I realized my engagement techniques were not suitable for a class of 140 students. I started searching for methods to help me keep my students engaged and interested. I found a few tricks involving technology. I am trying to summarize parts of my findings here.
Anne M. Brown, Ph.D. From a young age, I have maintained a passion for the sciences and for serving my communities. Uncovering the unknown, making connections across topics, and building community continues to keep me excited to be a scientist and an educator. I earned a B.S. in Biochemistry and Physics at Roanoke College and completed my Ph.D. in Biochemistry at Virginia Tech. I am currently an Assistant Professor and Science Informatics Consultant at Virginia Tech, where I lead a lab of 40+ undergraduate research students. I teach computational biochemistry, research methods, and data science while researching computational modeling and drug discovery for various diseases. I found a passion for working with undergraduate research students during graduate school and used it as a springboard for innovating and synergizing both my research and teaching missions as I became a faculty member.
Courtney A. Crist, Ph.D. My first exposure to Extension was through my mother as she was a master gardener and took classes through Extension. It was not until college when I learned more about the scale and scope of Extension work and the role of Extension in serving stakeholder needs. As an undergraduate and graduate student in food science, I worked with Extension faculty and assisted with the development and facilitation of Extension activities ranging across curriculum development, publications, programming, and training. Through these unique opportunities, I grew an appreciation for the role of Extension through extending knowledge and thereby changing lives. The power of Extension resonated as we are the nonformal educators making an impact in our community, state, industry, and nation by bringing technical assistance and knowledge where it can improve people’s lives. I am currently an Assistant Extension Professor in the Department of Food Science, Nutrition and Health Promotion at Mississippi State University.
Nasim Ebadi, M.S. I graduated from Virginia Tech with a master’s degree in Agricultural and Applied Economics. I had the opportunity to join the Graduate Teaching Scholarship program at the College of Agriculture and Life Science. As part of the program, I had to teach a course of my choice at the undergraduate level. As an international student, I was aware that engaging students is hard due to potential language and cultural barriers. I used the advantages of technology to strengthen my teaching style and guard against my potential deficiencies. I planned each session in such a way that I use the most relevant technology in action. Moreover, I added different sources such as interesting animations, in-class assignments using Microsoft Excel, and external links. Using technology helped me to become more focused on teaching and less concerned about the possible constraints. My students were focused, more engaged, and happier as well. I co-authored a chapter to share my successful experience with the readers.
Javier S. Garcia, Ph.D. As an undergraduate student, I had the opportunity to be an undergraduate teaching assistant. I enjoyed working with students, especially helping them understand the concepts of animal husbandry and developing their hands-on skills with livestock animals. While working on my Ph.D. I was allowed to further develop my teaching skills through the Graduate Teaching Scholars program. I became interested in relational teaching as a graduate teaching assistant and experiencing it in high school. I learned a lot from my instructors and built a foundation for my teaching on what I saw displayed before me every weekday. Believing that the classroom should be a fun learning environment, developing good instructor-student relationships is a key component in achieving that classroom atmosphere. I am now a Research Associate with the United States Department of Agriculture Research Service, U.S. National Poultry Research Center, in Athens, GA.
Gordon Jones, Ph.D. I came to my understanding of agriculture through family, teachers, and supervisors at summer jobs. It struck me that some of these mentors had a real knack for communicating clearly, explaining complex subjects simply, and connecting the task at hand to the bigger picture. As I pursue a career in Extension education, I remember those effective mentors, and strive to make my teaching clear, simple, and well-connected to the wider world. I completed a Ph.D. in Crop and Soil Environmental Sciences at Virginia Tech. Now, I am an Assistant Professor of Practice for Commercial Agriculture in Jackson and Josephine Counties with Oregon State University Extension.
Qualla ᏆᎳ Ketchum. I am a citizen of the Cherokee Nation and grew up within the Nation’s boundaries in what is also known as northeastern Oklahoma. My technical background is in Biological Systems and Agricultural Engineering and I am a current Ph.D. student in Virginia Tech’s Engineering Education department. My contributed chapter stems from my experiences as both an Indigenous student and Indigenous instructor at predominantly white research institutions. I hope to be part of institutional and systemic change that incorporates Indigenous knowledge and worldviews into STEM education. My work is also inspired by my family—both the generations before, particularly my parents who fostered a love of life-long learning and curiosity, and the generations to come, including my son.
Rachel Mack. I am a Ph.D. candidate in Virginia Tech’s Department of Agricultural, Leadership, and Community Education. My research interests include leadership, horticulture, law, and policy. I am always interested in learning new ways to be a more effective teacher. I am a recent graduate of the Graduate Teaching Scholars Program. I enjoy teaching online and in-person lecture courses, but one of my most memorable teaching moments comes from teaching labs. I once had a lab student who nervously turned in a blank quiz response. I returned his paper and asked him to try again. Composing himself, he remembered the answer!
Chris McCullough, Ph.D. While I was destined for a career as a stand-up comedian, I found that teaching was more enjoyable than getting produce thrown at me. As I have continued to teach, I’ve been learning how much of my sarcastic, dry humor to let out in the classroom. I know that humor is how I make myself comfortable in situations, but it isn’t always professional. I want to create a welcoming classroom, but I also want students to come prepared to learn. For better or worse, I’m figuring out how to present myself in a professional manner in the classroom that also allows me to be who I am.
William Moore, Ph.D. In 2010, I was asked to teach a microbiology class as a graduate teaching assistant at Fort Hays State University. It was during this first year of teaching that I first witnessed a student have a proverbial “aha” moment. The art of teaching has been a joy to my soul ever since. As a doctoral student at Virginia Tech, I was afforded the opportunity to receive formal education in pedagogy as a Graduate Teaching Scholar in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. The mentorship tendered through that program was invaluable in my development as a career faculty member. I have certainly had my share of failures and successes as an academic, and it is my hope that my contributed chapter will allow new faculty members to learn from these experiences and to be empowered to achieve early success in academia. I currently serve as an Associate Professor in the Department of Biology and Chemistry at Liberty University.
Emily Ott, Ph.D. I completed a Ph.D. at Virginia Tech in Crop and Soil Environmental Science and had a teaching assistantship for the entire time. Graduate students in the department I was in had either a research assistantship or a teaching assistantship. Those with a teaching assistantship were required to teach 20 hours a week. For about three years I was lead TA for Soils Lab, which typically included about five TAs every semester. When I first became the lead TA, I started making some changes to the lab course, such as rewriting our lab manual and notebooks. For my semester as Instructor of Record for Soils Lab, I made a set of grading rubrics for TAs, and I did a new final project for students. In my first two years of graduate school, I completed the Future Professoriate Certificate. During the last three years of my graduate program, I was a Graduate Teaching Scholar. I am invested in excellent teaching and my students’ success. Along the way, I found some things that worked and encountered some frustrations. I hope that our chapter combines my and Hannah’s experience with our background and learning through the Graduate Teaching Scholars Program to help current and future college laboratory instructors.
Bethany Wolters, Ph.D. I completed my Ph.D. at Virginia Tech in Crop and Soil Sciences in the School of Plant and Environmental Sciences. I decided that I wanted to teach at a university after being an undergraduate TA in the Soils lab at University of Tennessee at Martin. My first year in the Graduate Teaching Scholars Program I was a TA in Soil Fertility, an upper-level lecture course, and noticed that despite the students’ excitement and interest in the topic at the beginning of the semester, after a few months they were disengaged, overwhelmed, and uninterested in soil fertility. It was my goal to create the same hands-on, engaged learning in the Soil Fertility lecture course that I saw in the Soils lab. I was inspired by Dr. Mark Williams at Virginia Tech who used active learning in his lecture class and coined the term “Fun Fridays.” Over the next two years, as a co-instructor and an Instructor of Record, I created hands-on learning lessons for every Friday of the semester. I also was a co-creator and co-instructor for Applied Agronomic Topics in the Mid-Atlantic, a new online graduate course, and I tried to find ways to bring similar hands-on and authentic learning to an online format. Almost a decade after my first teaching experience, I am now the professor teaching Soils lab at UT Martin, with the help of great undergraduate TAs, and am excited to share my experiences with them and with you. Feel free to “graft” any of my teaching ideas into the tree of your teaching practice.