Student Reflections: Teaching Assistants

Kathlyn Gehl ‘21.5 and Alana Kornaker ’22, two teaching assistants of Middlebury’s first cohort of the Community Connected Project-Based Learning Teaching Assistant program, share their experience as a TA. To read the full reflection, visit the corresponding link.

Kathlyn Gehl ‘21.5:

When I started my job as a Community Connected Project Based Learning Teaching Assistant, I wasn’t quite sure what my job would entail. I thought that I would be doing a lot of different tasks, designing assignments, grading, and overall adapting to the needs of the class. I’m very happy that in the end my job was much different than I thought. In the class which was taught by Professor Ellery Foutch and entitled “Vermont Community Collaborations,” I ended up serving the role of spell checker, Henry Sheldon enthusiast, and formatting professional. In the class the students worked with Ellery to transcribe Henry Sheldon’s accession logs, donation records, and journals into large Google sheets which were then proofread by Ellery and me.
Although this might seem boring, it ended up being very interesting and a great way to help the community. Henry Sheldon is the founder of the Sheldon museum that still exists in downtown Middlebury. He was the museum’s first collector, curator, and his tastes were eclectic to say the least. His collection contains pieces of family history, town history, and national history but, prior to this year, his accession records have not been searchable.The digitizing of these records allows for much more accessibility as now family members can search their last name or a keyword and immediately figure out what was donated.  
I think it grounds me to the community and who will be able to use our work.  Hopefully along with the upcoming celebration of Henry Sheldon’s birthday more people will be encouraged to explore their family history or the history of Middlebury.
I’m very happy Ellery decided to take on this project because it gives back to the town of Middlebury. I have a CCE grant to continue working this summer as a research assistant helping to finish this work as well as assisting with cataloging other collections. Even though this job was different than I thought, I am so happy I took it and am very excited to continue in the future!

Alana Kornaker ’22

This semester I had the honor of being a part of Middlebury’s first-ever cohort of student leaders trained to help professors implement a new educational model into their classrooms: Community-Connected Project-Based Learning (CCPBL). CCPBL is a framework rooted in bridging the gap between local communities and their universities. Within the CCPBL model, students learn by doing — that is, students learn through hands-on experiences. Students work with community partners (Community-Connected) to work on consequential, meaningful projects (Project-Based) where both the community partners and the students benefit. 
I worked with Professor Nadine Canter Barnicle to implement the CCPBL model into ENVS0300: Approaching Sustainability from the Roots. In this class, students met with Nadine at the beginning of the semester to answer some tough questions — Who are you? What are your dreams? Where do you want to be 5, 10, 20 years down the road? How do you want to get there? These questions are at the core of each student’s semester-long projects.
Once paired, I helped students prepare to have conversations with their respective community partners. I assisted students as they created final presentations to share their CCPBL experiences with the rest of the class. Every single student reported that they felt their community partner played a huge role in their self-exploration project because of the way their mentor was able to get the students excited about the person that they currently are and the person that they are becoming. The community partners reported that engaging with the youthful energy that each student brought to the conversation helped remind them of the reasons why they entered into their respective professions in the first place. In this way, both parties left the partnership with a newfound sense of self, purpose, and vision. Both the students and the community partners were reminded of what it truly means to be a lifelong learner. This, to me, is what education is all about. 
Knowing that Middlebury offers hundreds of classes a semester, I am excited to see just how many lives are touched as this CCPBL curriculum becomes rooted in more and more Middlebury’s courses.

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