I've never been a "normal" student. Even in elementary school, I begged my teacher for more math assignments to do over Christmas break. I repeatedly received "genuine desire to learn" comments on my report cards, even though I didn't understand the gravity of that compliment until recently. Despite my longing for knowledge, I faltered when I first arrived at Duke in Fall 2012. I wouldn't be where I am today if it wasn't for a professor who helped me find my footing. She helped me navigate a rigorous undergraduate engineering curriculum by finding learning strategies that worked for me, and she has subsequently opened doors for my future I never knew existed. Her impact has driven me to teach and mentor other students who may also be struggling to find their way.
By looking within, I realized that diverse learning strategies enabled me to learn most efficiently. For instance, breaking up lectures with informal, formative assessments via iClickers, games, group activities, and individual problem-solving time can be effective in not only maintaining student engagement, but also promoting learning. I've developed multiple in-class activities, such as a MATLAB-based medical imaging escape room review game, which required teams of students to work collaboratively to solve a series of problems similar to those they might see on the final exam. This activity was well-received by my students, and it reinforced the need for varied modes of instruction for long-term learning.
Furthermore, laboratory activities are a great way to bolster in-class learning when carefully designed to align with the curriculum. I was fortunate to TA abroad in Costa Rica during the first two years of the Pratt in Costa Rica Summer Study Abroad Program. To leverage the unique outdoor environment Costa Rica had to offer, I helped design laboratory assignments for each of the two engineering courses. Specifically, the students in the signal processing course recorded bird calls and developed their own signal processing pipelines to match bird species based on the unique frequency information in their calls, whereas the students in the differential equations class (of which I was not the TA) collected acceleration data on perturbed hanging bridges to model the oscillatory behavior according to a second-order mass-spring-damper system. The students in the Pratt in Costa Rica program may selectively remember their weekend excursions to the beach, but I bet they will also recall what they learned by doing these labs in greater detail than they will any of our traditional lectures.
As an educator, I want my students to play an active role in their own learning. I do this by soliciting feedback early and often from students so that the course can be modified, as necessary, to t their needs. I was asked this past academic year to lead the biomedical engineering (BME) departmental TA seminar. In this role, I help prepare my fellow BME PhD students to excel as TAs. As the course facilitator, I have full control over the design and structure of the seminar, and I have made improvements based on student feedback in each subsequent iteration of the class such as weekly "check-ins" at the beginning of each seminar, more small-group discussions, and inviting guest speakers. Last year, I led the class entirely online, which was a new mode of instruction for me. However, it pushed me outside of my comfort zone and forced me to get creative in order to engage my students through their screens. I heavily utilized Zoom breakout rooms, polling, and Google Jamboards (a brainstorming tool) to promote class participation and collaboration amid challenging circumstances. By asking for feedback and implementing changes, the students see that you care about their thoughts, which gives them a sense of ownership in the course and ultimately improves learning outcomes.
I also believe one of the best ways to learn is to fearlessly ask questions. Asking questions shows students' curiosity and self-reflection, but students are sometimes afraid to appear ignorant in front of their peers by revealing the gaps in their understanding. In the past, I have used an online Q&A platform called Piazza as both a student and a TA, which enables students to ask and answer each other's questions anonymously. Unfortunately, this service will be inaccessible moving forward due to budget restrictions. As I believe such a forum is essential for student learning, I have been working with Duke Learning Innovation to develop a similar tool that integrates with Sakai (Duke's learning management system). During this process, I have stressed the importance of anonymity, and this is one of the primary functions of the new tool which will be launched for beta testing in Fall 2021.
In parallel to my various teaching roles as a graduate student, I have strived to learn more about pedagogy theory and course design through the Certificate of College Teaching, and I was taught strategies to effectively design and evaluate student writing assignments as part of the Certificate of Accomplishment in Teaching Writing in the Disciplines. These programs have taught me the "why" behind some of the techniques I have seen implemented as both a student and a TA, such as formative assessments, team-based learning, and project-based learning, and they have provided a strong foundation from which to plan out future courses I plan to teach. I have also attended the last two American Society for Engineering Education (ASEE) conferences, where I have seen some of the latest teaching strategies being implemented in engineering classrooms.
In addition to my prior roles as a TA, where I had to prioritize learning for the entire class simultaneously, I also have experience providing individualized assistance to students. I was a tutor and mentor for Duke Athletics for four years, where I worked with a variety of student-athletes, including some who have since signed with professional teams in the NBA and NFL. Some of these students were admittedly not fully invested in their college coursework, but I quickly learned how to "coach" them for success by giving them a bit of tough love, by developing a "practice" plan that could fit into their hectic schedules, by reviewing their past assignments like they do game film, and by preparing for exams like they do for competitions. This experience reinforced that no two students learn and are motivated the same way, which required me to adapt to find strategies that would engage each one.
I also currently tutor online for a private company, which has expanded my reach as an educator tremendously. I've had the privilege of working with over 100 different students over the years from dozens of schools in the United States and abroad. I've taught students a variety of subjects from single and multivariable calculus to circuit analysis to engineering design--I've even taught a few students how to play the guitar (a hobby of mine for the last 20 years)! Being able to cater to so many students across a range of disciplines and abilities has improved my versatility as a teacher, and it has required me to find new and creative ways to explain ideas. While I am seldom notified of students' improvements in terms of course grades, I have maintained a perfect five-star tutor rating, which arms that my students have benefitted from my lessons.
Finally, giving back has been instilled in me since my childhood, which has led me to volunteer annually with outreach programs designed to improve interest in STEM fields among underrepresented groups, such as Females and Allies Excelling More in Mathematics, Engineering, and Science, the Perry Initiative, Duke Splash!, the Scientific Research and Education Network Triangle, and Duke-Durham School Days. I also developed and taught two Duke Talent Identification Program courses for academically gifted middle and high school students: one on biomedical engineering and the other specifically focused on medical imaging. Furthermore, I lead my research lab's involvement in National Biomechanics Day each year, in which we teach middle school students about osteoarthritis and anterior cruciate ligament injuries, and I've mentored numerous undergraduate and post- baccalaureate students in the lab over the past 7 years. Two of my former undergraduate mentees graduated with departmental distinction based on their research projects, while the others have gone on to medical school or industry positions. My mentors have guided me to where I am today, so I am glad to have been able to give back to my community over the years, and I plan to continue to pay it forward in the next chapter of my life.
I am comfortable teaching many topics due in part to my extensive tutoring record; however, I am most interested in teaching courses related to signal/image processing, medical imaging, biomechanics, MATLAB and/or Python programming, and engineering design. Most of these subject areas align with courses I have previously TAed, and they also tie into the work with which I have been researching as part of my PhD studies. While I will incorporate programming into any class I teach in the future, I am interested in helping students with no programming experience become proficient in writing code, as getting students to "think like a computer" when developing algorithms is something that is not always taught in the most efficient and engaging manner. I will also be a technical mentor this fall for first-year design teams, which will bolster my ability to guide students through the engineering design process.
Even after over 20 years of formal education, I haven't lost my curiosity and my genuine desire to learn. My goal as an educator is to lead by example to inspire students to think outside the box, to explore what excites them, and to never be afraid to ask questions. I will know I achieved this goal based on the types of questions my students ask now and in the future, and I hope they feel they can turn to me for guidance no matter what obstacles they may be facing.