AULAP Faculty Spotlight

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August Spotlight: David Crisostomo


To kick off the start of the new academic year, the Auburn University Learning Assistant Program would like to continue our recognition of the incredible students and staff that are vital to our shared success. A member of the Auburn family since 2017, Dr. Dave Crisostomo is the professor we have the honor of featuring in this month's LAP Faculty Spotlight.

Dr. Crisostomo’s interest in lab research began during his schooling as he pursued a B.S. in chemistry from Notre Dame and a Ph.D. from Vanderbilt. At the time, supervising labs and serving as a TA felt like obligations, but, after attending an education seminar, Dr. Crisostomo gained a valuable new perspective that changed his approach to teaching. Focusing on the students and how they learned the material became a rewarding mindset that would lead him to his role today.

Dr. Crisostomo’s classes here at Auburn follow a flipped classroom style; students watch lectures at home to build fundamental knowledge before coming to class to practice application. With foundational chemistry classes reaching 200 students, Dr. Crisostomo uses anywhere from 4 to 8 Learning Assistants in his classes to walk around and assist students who may need extra guidance. He confers with them each week, provides practice sheets, and works with his LAs to create practice problems they think would be the most beneficial to the students.

During our interview, Dr. Crisostomo explains the role his LAs fill as “facilitating [an] active learning classroom.” He goes on to say: “In a large class [without LAs] it would be impossible to teach the way that I teach now.” Dr. Crisostomo explains how he often matches up struggling students with LAs who have similar majors and encourages successful students interested in helping others to apply to LAP.

Dr. Crisostomo also remarks about the unique experience LAP offers. He explained how he has never seen another program like it, one where undergraduate students are so involved. He recalled his time as a graduate student having to lead lab sessions alone. Beyond the benefit they pose to him as a professor, Dr. Crisostomo acknowledges positive student feedback regarding his LAs. Often students will mention LAs by name in course evaluation and elaborate on their ability to cater to their individual needs.

With over 50 LAs hired during his time at Auburn, Dr. Crisostomo continues to be an enthusiastic proponent of LAP. “Having LAs really changed how I teach,” he said, “[the] LA program lets me teach the best way.”


April Spotlight: Melissa Halford

halfordAs the semester winds down and summer approaches, the Learning  Assistant Program would like to acknowledge an outstanding professor who has made the most of AULAP this past Spring. A lecturer at Auburn since 2018, Melissa Halford has proven to be an excellent member of the LAP community and a perfect choice for this month's Faculty Spotlight.

Despite her experience as a teaching assistant, Halford had never seen an undergraduate program like AULAP prior to her involvement. She notes how helpful it would have been for her during her time at school but is delighted that she is able to be a part of it now as a university physics lecturer.

Physics is an intimidating subject and both Halford and her LAs know this. With core classes capping out at around 150 students, Halford finds difficulty in facilitating group work after her lectures. That is where Learning Assistants come in. Prior to class, Halford sends her LAs the problems and solutions the students will be faced with. After an overview by Halford, both her and her LAs patrol the classroom helping any students facing difficulty. While physics LAs are hard to come by, Halford mentions how vital the 2 to 3 LAs in her classes truly are.

Halford likes to mix her classes between lectures and problem-solving. Learning Assistants triple the number of students that can be helped both in the classroom and out. Halford mentions how her LAs often go above and beyond, joining class GroupMes, assisting students beyond class and office hours, and hosting review sessions very popular among students.

Students in Halford’s class continue to mention how valuable their LAs are. The difficulty of the physics curriculum often leads many students to feel as though success is impossible and physics either makes sense to them from the start or doesn't. Halford challenges this. She encourages a “growth mindset” and values how student LAs can reassure first-time students that success is possible. LAs provide proof that students are able to master the material and can eventually guide others.

Halford currently serves as the overseer of LA management for the physics department. Physics LAs are in high demand and both Halford and AULAP encourage students to consider this rewarding role.


March Spotlight: Heather Haskell

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As LAP has expanded over the years and has come to include statistics courses here at Auburn, it has given us the incredible opportunity to work with Heather Haskell, a lecturer in the Department of Mathematics and Statistics, and feature her hard work for March’s Faculty Spotlight.

Throughout her 34 years of teaching experience, Haskell has never experienced the kind of peer-to-peer guidance offered by Auburn’s Learning Assistant Program. A math education major, Haskell always was intent on becoming a teacher. During her time as an undergrad, she worked as a tutor for a general studies program outside of normal classes but always thought such resources would be more accessible if based in the classroom.

Upon being introduced to LAP and implementing it this Spring semester, Haskell quickly prompted students to apply for the program and regularly encourages those in her class to utilize their LAs. In her class structure, Haskell usually “lets students lead themselves” through problems and then has the Learning Assistants and herself confirm the material for students through summarization.

Haskell’s LA-supported classes include over 100 students per section. She explained how she is unable to answer questions from every student and  describes the help she receives from her LAs as an “integral part of learning.” LAs in Haskell’s classes host office hours twice a week, two to four hours per day in addition to holding review sessions before major assessments. Haskell recalls one LA-led review session prior to the first exam which 75 students attended, many of whom reported it to be extremely beneficial.

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As it stands now, Haskell works with four Learning Assistants, two per class section. Prior to class, Haskell sends LAs the problems the students will be presented with that day, sources of potential confusion, and a preview of commonly asked questions. Her LAs send her weekly reports about the attitude of the class and topics the LAs think students might need more explanation about.

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Haskell heavily values the peer-to-peer experience offered by LAP. As an experienced instructor, she can often spot students that may need additional help, perhaps better than an LA can. At the same time, student LAs have just taken the course recently; they have a fresh understanding of what it is like to learn the material for the first time and can connect with students who may be intimidated by the professor. This collaboration between LA and the professor is another component Haskell has come to appreciate.

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Haskell heavily promotes the use of LAP in her statistics courses. She notes that STAT is the only comparable LA course without a recitation section or lab, making LA support outside of class even more valuable. As the program develops, both Haskell and AULAP hope to expand to more courses in the math department and other departments here in COSAM. 



February Spotlight: Dr. Yohannes Meharimehari_crop.jpg

The Learning Assistant Program has the honor of working with numerous exemplary faculty and students here at Auburn University. As part of our new monthly newsletter, LAP would like to acknowledge the hard work and dedication offered by a few of our outstanding members. It is with great pleasure that we recognize Dr. Yohannes Mehari in the first installment of our Faculty Spotlight.

Before he began his teaching career 18 years ago, Dr. Mehari served as a learning assistant himself. He stuck around after class to answer questions from his fellow students and guided them through the labs of his science courses. He continued this path in graduate school as a teaching assistant before eventually beginning his career as a professor of microbiology. Dr. Mehari attributes his passion for teaching to the experience he earned as an LA.


In the Spring of 2019, Dr. Mehari was introduced to the Learning Assistant Program by its coordinator Dr. Min Zhong. Already familiar with the benefits such programs offer, Dr. Mehari began implementing student LAs in his classes. For his large lecture classes, sometimes reaching nearly 300 students, Dr. Mehari could notice the disconnect between him and his students. In our interview with Dr. Mehari, he described his LAs as “lifesavers” as they “acted like a bridge” between him and his class. Dr. Mehari’s classroom environment encourages participation and active learning. Often he will lecture for less than half of class time before breaking his students into groups guided by himself and his LAs. By hiring anywhere from 5 to 10 LAs per class, teacher to student ratio changes from one professor for 300 students to one Learning Assistant per 30 students.


Throughout his time at Auburn, Dr. Mehari has hired 60-80 student Learning Assistants. Each LA is required to attend every class as well as hold office hours anywhere from three to seven hours per week. By encouraging his LAs to hold their office hours on different days throughout the week, Dr. Mehari creates what he calls “24/7 online customer service” for his students. Virtually anytime throughout the week, students that need support in his class have access to him or a Learning Assistant. He mentions how time as an LA serves as vital experience for those interested in K-12 teaching as well as an extra opportunity to engage with students and get paid while doing it.


Dr. Mehari explains how student LAs can connect to their fellow students and can communicate to Dr. Mehari how they learn best and what topics might need additional explanation. He engages directly with his LAs and directs struggling students to work with assistants he thinks would best meet their individual needs. Dr. Mehari encourages other faculty to do the same; the constant availability and personal connection for students have shown their effectiveness over the years. Dr. Mehari recalls students attributing their success in the class to LAP, mentioning particular LAs by name in the course evaluation. After recommending a particular Learning Assistant, Dr. Mehari watched as a struggling student raised their grade two letter grades from the first test.

Overall, Dr. Mehari rates his experience with LAP as incredibly positive. He hopes the university continues to fund such programs as Dr. Mehari himself said, “I wouldn't be able to do a lot of the things I do in my class without LA.”