Carnegie Mellon University
March 23, 2020

Graduate Student Teaching Award Winners Announced

By Cameron Monteith

Alexis Adams and Patience Stevens are the 2020 recipients of the Dietrich College Humanities and Social Sciences’ awards for teaching.

Service as teacher or teaching assistant are invaluable roles that many graduate students fill in the college’s educational mission and enterprise, and these two outstanding candidates exemplify this value to a remarkable degree,” said Joseph Devine, an associate dean in Dietrich College. “This part of their graduate training will have significant residual effects in their future careers as educators in the lives of the students they will subsequently serve.

Alexis Adams

adams-800x800.jpgAdams, a Ph.D. candidate in the Second Language Acquisition (SLA) doctoral program in the Department of Modern Languages, received the Dietrich College Graduate Student Teaching Award for teaching courses for both the Modern Language Department as well as Department of English.

“It’s one thing to know you’re being nominated and it’s another to actually receive the award,” Adams said. “The English and Modern Languages departments at CMU have a great reputation for teaching students. I’m honored to represent those two departments and the efforts they put into teaching and learning.”

In her teaching statement, Adams emphasizes the importance of self-reflection in her classroom.

“To teach all students, you have to get to know who they are, where do they come from and adjusting my teaching depending on these factors,” Adams said. “In order to become a better teacher, I go through these same self-reflection processes as my students.”

In one course, Adams struggled with student participation. She noted her students’ varying cultural and educational backgrounds and partnered with the Eberly Center for Teaching Excellence and Educational Innovation in order to develop new discussion methods. Students noted at the end of the semester that this new approach helped them gain new perspectives and incorporate the content into their final essays.

“Teaching language is not just about learning rules and structure but understanding what you want to say and how you want to say it,” said Adams. “It’s about expression and communication.”

According to Adams, language is a path to new opportunities and to reflect and grow.

“Learning another language is essential. It opens doors on so many different levels: traveling and meeting different people and cultures, and in turn finding yourself,” Adams said. “And as our world is more globalized, speaking another language helps bridge the gap between all of us.”

Adams will be defending her dissertation spring 2020, earning her Ph.D. in Second Language Acquisition. She hopes to continue her research on pedagogic practices in teaching language and to continue developing her own techniques for incoming students.

Patience Stevens

stephens-800x800.jpgPatience Stevens, a graduate student in the Department of Psychology, received the Dietrich College Graduate Student Teaching Assistant Award for teaching workshops with the CMU Psychology Graduate Outreach program as well as assisting in a course on research methods in developmental psychology.

Stevens conducts her research in reading processes, specifically in reading acquisition and word recognition. She appreciates how CMU interconnects teaching and learning to benefit students and professors alike.

“At CMU, there’s an applied and interdisciplinary community for me to be a part of in order to help me in my more theoretical psychological studies,” Stevens said. ”We can all come across departments and talk about educational policy or designing software all in order to benefit our own research. It’s great.”

As a teaching assistant for a course covering research methods in developmental psychology, Stevens had the chance to design experiments and help students run them. Students would then be able to craft their own experiments at the end of the course to explore a question or issue that intrigued them.

“[It] was really fun to watch students get more confidence in piloting and developing data collection skills and their own experiments,” Stevens said. “Watching students going through the scientific processes and interacting with fellow students, learning and reworking tests in order to better suit their experiments — that was real science.”

Stevens believes her teaching experience has influenced her research, and importantly, her teaching methods.

“I learned a lot from the department about being critical about the ‘right knowledge,’ the background info that can be used to understand the underlying mechanisms at play,” Stevens said. “I realize the benefit to talking to other people about your ideas and research in order to get more perspective on what you’re working on, whether that be colleagues or students.”

Stevens will be continuing her research into next semester. She is currently a teaching assistant for a course on parallel distributive processing next semester.