Environmental and Evolutionary Biology Ph.D. candidate Ronald Kittle has received the 2022 Outstanding Graduate Teaching Assistant Award.
Kittle has built an impressive record of supporting faculty and undergraduate students in the classroom in his role as a graduate teaching assistant. Dr. Kristina Porthouse, who nominated Kittle for the award, recalls his exceptional contributions to BIOL 112 in the fall 2021 semester. Kittle “reviewed all proposed course materials prior to the start of the semester and consulted with me on potential improvements to the laboratory activities and assignments, providing valuable suggestions based on his extensive biology knowledge and previous teaching experience,” Porthouse says. As BIOL 112 largely enrolls freshmen biology majors with minimal experience in laboratory work, Kittle’s ability to guide students on building persistence and resilience stood out. “His students felt comfortable asking questions, seeking help and exploring concepts even beyond those presented in the lab activity itself. Especially with freshmen who are often intimidated and self-conscious in classroom situations, this is an impressive accomplishment,” Porthouse notes. Kittle took initiative to offer help sessions for difficult skills, offer make-up lab sessions for students unable to attend class due to quarantine, while providing insightful feedback on reports and assignments. He became deeply committed to working with students who were unconfident in their preparation for the rigors of college-level biology.
“I worked heavily throughout the semester on changing that classroom dynamic to be more supportive for these scholars — to be that person that believes in them, and to push them to excel. No matter their educational background, every one of them can excel if they put in the work,” Kittle says. He draws on his own development as a scholar when working with students. “I struggled a lot in and outside of the classroom, and it took a lot of time for me to get where I am today with many road bumps along the way,” Kittle says. “I think having rapport with scholars and emphasizing that one grade, one class, one test will not define you as a person really helped students overcome that anxiety and societal pressure.” Kittle promotes his students’ success by keeping an open line of communication and creating multiple opportunities for learning. Before the start of each lab, he leaves time for students to share and ask questions. “If a concept isn’t quite clear or if I previously misspoke, or cannot answer a question right away, I try to find additional ways to present the materials and/or look up the answer and then post it on Moodle so everyone can be on the same page,” Kittle says. Modeling honesty and directness with his students encourages them to enjoy the learning process, and teaches them that “asking questions is encouraged and not shamed upon. We are all human and cannot possibly know everything in the world,” he notes.
The College joins the Graduate School in commending Kittle’s exceptional work in supporting undergraduate student learning as a graduate teaching assistant. His success in motivating, inspiring, and mentoring undergraduate students is a testament to the profound contributions graduate students make to our University’s scholarly culture.