Department of Geosciences TA wins national award

Baylor geosciences PhD candidate Dylan (Jiajun) Jiang won the Outstanding Teaching Assistant award from the National Association of Geoscience Teachers. Photo courtesy of Dylan Jiang.

Baylor geosciences PhD candidate Dylan (Jiajun) Jiang won the Outstanding Teaching Assistant award from the National Association of Geoscience Teachers. He is one of five recipients to receive the award in early January.

Jiang works as a teaching assistant in the lab for Geology 1401 Earthquakes and Other Natural Disasters. He teaches two to three labs a semester that average around 15 to 20 students.

“I’m really proud of it. I was very happy because being a teaching assistant is part of my daily life. I really enjoy teaching undergraduates. The class I teach is a geology class for non-science majors. I learn a lot of things from the students,” Jiang said.

His students are typically non-science majors and the students in Jiang’s labs are often times taking a college level science course for the first time.

“I feel really happy when I see my students learn lots of things. In the beginning [of the class] they don’t know the [material]. After my class, they feel really confident about what they’ve learned,” Jiang said.

Part of the reason why Jiang won the award is due to the fact that he likes to allow his students to explore geology through labs that will keep the course interesting. One lab that he particularly enjoys that gets positive feedback from the students focuses on explaining the science of tsunamis.

“The one lab I like most that I teach my students is about tsunamis. They like to see those cool visualizations of scientific experiments compared to lots of boring math. If you allow them to see something that happens in the real world. We have these glass tubes, and we watch the water column move back and forth and up and down. It’s really fun, [the students] like that lab a lot,” Jiang said.

Ultimately it was Jiang’s method of teaching the lab that made him the best nationally. His methods of teaching are interactive and collaborative — traits that keep the students in his labs motivated to learn.

“I like when everyone participates in my class. I don’t like just talking by myself. The students feel really excited about answering the questions. Once they answer a question correctly, I will just encourage them, so they feel more and more confident and the class becomes interesting,” Jiang said.

Sharon Browning, Teaching Laboratory coordinator for the Department of Geosciences, nominated Jiang for the award after seeing steady improvements in the course evaluations for Jiang’s lab sections.

“He does a very good job explaining the material to the students in a way that they will understand,” Browning said. “When they don’t understand, Dylan is very good at figuring out another way to communicate it to them. He is a phenomenal TA.”

Jiang’s course evaluations also show that his students respond positively to his teaching methods. One student wrote: “He was the best TA I have had at Baylor so far. He did a great job of explain the lab and made sure we understood what to do safely and smoothly.”

One of Jiang’s favorite things about being a TA is when he is recognized by his students outside of the lab.

“My favorite moments are when my students have seen me on the street and said ‘Hey, Dylan you are the best TA!’ I just feel really happy seeing that my students love me so much. I feel really proud of that,” Jiang said.

As part of the award, Jiang also earns a one-year membership to the National Association of Geoscience Teachers, which will give him access to exclusive geology based teaching resources.