Images from 2011 ogsi awards event
The auditorium of I-House was filled with the honored GSIs themselves and their friends, partners, and family. There were more than a few laughs as diploma-like certificates were handed out (by Grad Division associate dean Carlo Fernandez-Pello), names were called (by Advisory Committee for GSI Affairs chair Jeff Reimer, in this instance to biophysics Ph.D. student Neil Switz, a bioengineering GSI), rejoicing was done (by, for instance, Near Eastern Languages Ph.D. student Elizabeth Saylor, a Near Eastern Studies GSI). When all the certificates were gone, all that was left to do was eat the goodies, take a few last pictures, and trundle the baby home for some real sleep. (Meet Talia Krasnow, who was 2 months old back in May, and dozed quietly through the ceremony. In the picture, she's held by her dad, ESPM Ph.D. candidate and GSI Kevin Krasnow, whose emphasis is fire ecology and forest management. Talia's mom is Cal poli sci alumna Ingrid Daffner Krasnow, Class of '98.) (photos: Peg Skorpinski)

The commencement season is a time of smiles all over campus as as departments, schools, and colleges hold ceremonies marking successful completions of years of concentrated hard work. And they reward the “best of the best” with special honors of many kinds.

The Graduate Division willingly conforms to this annual pattern with feel-good events of its own, all of which in their own ways honor service to students by individuals.

Some of that service is by students themselves, grad students who, as GSIs, help other students learn more and understand it better. Our honors for that laudable behavior come in two sizes.

The largest clump of Graduate Division honors is comprised of the Outstanding Graduate Student Instructor Awards, given in the hundreds by the Division’s GSI Teaching and Resource Center and the Graduate Council’s Advisory Committee for GSI Affairs. Two hundred ninety-four GSIs were honored this year, out of the thousands who teach at Berkeley each semester; the names of the many winners, from Ameer Loggins of African American Studies through Daniel Coates of Vision Science, are posted on the GSI Center’s website.

The OGSI Awards were handed out individually to the winners at a commencement-style ceremony May 5 in the International House auditorium, which was jam-packed with awardees, family, and friends.

Smart solutions

A smaller clump of GSI honors, the Teaching Effectiveness Awards (TEA),  are also given by the GSI Center and the Advisory Committee for GSI Affairs, presented to a subset of Outstanding Graduate Student Instructor Award winners whose innovative methods have enhanced the ways their students learn.  This set was presented May 11 in the Women’s Faculty Club.

These are all the Teaching Effectiveness Award recipients for 2011, listed alphabetically with teaching department:

Emine Fidan Elcioglu, Sociology
Alejandra Figueroa-Clarevega, Molecular and Cell Biology
Emily Frey, Music
Lynn Huang, English
Stacy Jackson, Energy & Resources Group
Allison Kidder, Environmental Science, Policy, and Management
Stephanie Langin-Hooper, Near Eastern Studies
Jessica Smith, Chemistry
Neil Switz, Bioengineering
Sean Tanner, Public Policy

The TEA winners’ pointer-filled essays are posted archivally on the GSI Center website, along with those of the winners over a dozen-year stretch, adding up to a cornucopia of innovative hints which, now that it’s online, gets visited by a wide range of visitors, from beginning GSIs to long-term tenured faculty at Berkeley, across the U.S., and elsewhere in the world.

Read any or all of the Teaching Effectiveness Award essays from 1999 to the present

Most of the 2011 GSI recipients of the Teaching Effectiveness Award in the Women's Faculty Club
Teaching Effectiveness Award honorees and those who honored them (left to right, standing in top row): Kim Starr-Reid (assistant director of the GSI Center), Alejandra Figueroa-Clarevega, Sean Tanner, Neil Switz, Stephanie Langin-Hooper, Stacy Jackson; (bottom row, seated) Allison Kidder, Jeff Reimer (chair of the Graduate Council's Advisory Committee for GSI Affairs), Jessica Smith, Linda von Hoene (director of the GSI Center), and Lynn Huang. (Photos: Peg Skorpinski)

The pedagogical value of chaos

Emily Frey injured her ankle on her way to the ceremony, so she wasn’t in the group picture, but did receive her Teaching Effectiveness Award. And her TEA essay (“Teaching Basic Musicianship” An Ode to Chaos”), happens to be a great example of the breed: solid problem-and-solution explication, and well written in the bargain.

Emily Frey, music GSI
Emily Frey

Emily, who is originally from rural New Jersey (which “does, in fact, exist,” she assures us on her music department grad student page), is three years into her Ph.D., with research interests in Russian music and literature as well as American musical theater.

She taught Music 20B, Basic Musicianship II, which she says is “of all the classes I’ve taught at Berkeley, the most challenging — and by far the most fun.”  The main, and frustratingly abstract, course objective is “helping students to improve their sight-singing.”  Not only do the students have to employ “an incredibly diverse” set of skills, the GSI is granted “an unusual (and intimidating) level of independence,” making the “lowly sounding” course a “baptism by fire.”

Since 20B is “chaotic by nature,” rather than fight the flow, Emily went with it.  She made the process the goal and the product the reward.  Instead of having students “prepare melodies independently, with class time devoted to critiquing individual performances,” she divided the class into quartets, with each student assigned a singing part in a choral piece.  “On the knoll behind Morrison Hall” they would sight-sing their way through the assigned pieces.  “I’d float around these little islands of cacophony, offering a helping ear…and guidance as needed.”  Then, “each week I’d amp up the difficulty…and each week I’d be shocked at how well” the students’ performed.  By the end of the semester she “tried an insane project,” leading the class in the entire Mozart Requiem, “one singer per part.”  It would not go down, she says, as “one of the great interpretations of that sublime and demanding piece.  But honestly, I can’t remember a prouder moment in my entire musical life.”