Six graduate students recognized as Bioengineering Teaching Excellence Fellows


Hannah Burk

This year, six bioengineering graduate students have received the 2019-20 Teaching Excellence Fellowship award. These students have been recognized for excelling in the classroom, connecting with students and making lasting impacts in the department during an unprecedented semester. Each recipient will be awarded $2,500 for his or her outstanding contributions. 

Colin Castleberry received this recognition for his teaching assistant role in BIOE 420 Introduction to Biological Control Systems taught by Bioengineering Professor Brad Sutton. As a required class for Bioengineering seniors, this course has significant MATLAB deliverables which required Castleberry to grade based on careful examination of each student's code. 

In addition, Castleberry incorporated his own engineering education research which allowed students to get regular feedback on their skills through radar plots. Castleberry put in significant upfront work prior to the start of the semester to map out the course's concepts, skills and hierarchies and tagged all course materials accordingly. As a result, students were able to better focus their efforts, pinpoint where they needed additional practice and stay highly engaged. Sutton wrote in his nomination, "I have never seen a TA have such a significant impact on student motivation in a course."

Kenan Jijakli served as a teaching assistant for BIOE 360 Transport & Flow in Bioengineering. In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, Jijakli has worked diligently to help students transition to online learning by being an encouraging and active presence online. He went above and beyond to hold extra office hours and review sessions to meet the needs of students. 

His nominator, Teaching Assistant Professor Karin Jensen wrote, "I've truly been impressed not only by Kenan's knowledge of the subject and his ability to explain complex topics to students, but also his patience and dedication to provide the absolute best experience for all students, no matter the situation." An undergraduate student from BIOE 360 also shared, "everyone in the class loves Kenan." 

Just a week before the spring 2020 semester, Vince Kelly learned he would be the teaching assistant for BIOE 206 Cellular Bioengineering, co-taught by Assistant Professors Thomas Gaj and Shannon Sirk. Despite the short window of time to prepare, he was an exemplary teaching assistant. Sirk wrote in her nomination, "because this was the first time that Professor Gaj and I had taught the course, curriculum development was often happening in real-time and Vince contributed to this in a number of extraordinarily helpful ways." 

In his role, Kelly provided the professors with meaningful feedback on course lectures, assisted with the grading responsibilities and curated exam questions and homework materials. Kelly's patience and fairness made him a capable asset for students in the course. 

Yahang Li was nominated by Bioengineering Assistant Professor Fan Lam for two teaching assistant roles: BIOE 205 Signals & Systems in Bioengineering in spring 2020 and BIOE 415 Biomedical Instrumentation Lab in fall 2019. In addition to being awarded as a Teaching Excellence Fellow this year, Li was on the List of Teachers Ranked as Excellent by Students for the past two semesters. 

Lam wrote in his nomination letter, "impressively, I found that Yahang has a unique way of connecting with the students using his own learning experiences and help them understand the difficult concepts as well as problem-solving techniques." When classes transitioned online in March, Li was a tremendous help in creating data sets and online modules for students to pivot from a lab-based project to a programming-based one. 

Angelo Miskalis is a first-year graduate student who has already made a lasting impact on the Bioengineering department. Miskalis served as a teaching assistant for BIOE 306 Biofabrication Lab taught by Assistant Professor Pablo Perez-Pinera. In addition to being named a 2020 Teaching Excellence Fellow, Angelo also earned a spot on the List of Teachers Ranked as Excellent by Students, a distinction that emphasizes his immense potential as an instructor.   

Perez-Pinera highlighted that Miskalis’ proficiency and commitment to undergraduate education was remarkable. “It was clear from the moment I interviewed him for the position that he already mastered all the material. What I did not anticipate was how his vast knowledge in combination with his commendable work ethics and friendly personality would ensure that the students learned the material so effectively. Angelo went above and beyond to prepare new materials for class, create video demonstrations, mentor students on scientific writing and provide extensive guidance for their final projects.  Angelo truly was an asset to BIOE 306 last year and I am looking forward to working with him again next fall,” said Perez-Pinera. 

Deepthi Suresh served as a teaching assistant for BIOE 2020 Cell and Tissue Engineering Lab for two semesters, working under Professor Karin Jensen. She has excelled as a leader in the course’s instructional team by taking the initiative to implement gradescope to streamline grading and digitalize exams. Her knowledge of gradescope has been an asset to other instructors both in BIOE and in other departments navigating online instruction. 

Additionally, Suresh puts students’ learning at the forefront of her work. She has provided students with additional resources and practice exams to aid their understanding of the coursework. An undergraduate course assistant working with her in BIOE 202 wrote, "Deepthi prides herself as an advocate for her students, and insists on implementing additional resources and information that she believes will help her students in their coursework. Deepthi puts her students first, and works her hardest to create the most positive learning environment for them."