Learning Assistant Program: April Newsletter

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Congratulations to our Outstanding LA Awardees!

la awardees

Congratulations to our recipients of the Outstanding Undergraduate Learning Assistant Award. Nominations are reviewed by faculty who are engaged with the Learning Assistant Program and selections are based on the candidate’s exemplary performance inside and outside the classroom, including Learning Assistant community service and leadership.

Matthew Hufalar (left), Emilee Middleton (middle), and Kallan Blakemore (right) have all served as Learning Assistants for at least 3 semesters. With varying majors, biomedical science, chemical engineering, and chemistry respectively, these exemplary students shared some words regarding their rewarding time working with AULAP.

"My favorite part about being an LA is just the interactions with the students and getting to know them while helping them out," says Matthew, "I plan to incorporate the skills I have learned as an LA throughout my future career, but also in my future learning as some of these skills will correlate to my own education."

Emilee plans to enter the medical field and values the communication skills she's refined by serving as an LA. She recalled numerous examples of breaking down complex problems into manageable steps for students saying: "Watching students engage and improve in the class is most rewarding [part]."

Kallan touched on some of the difficulties faced by LAs: "I think the most challenging part of being an LA is that it forces you to think about topics and concepts you’ve already learned from a completely different perspective in order to explain it to students." Kallan goes on to say: "My time as an LA has solidified my goal to become a chemistry professor."


LA Faculty 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.



LA of the Month: Kaitlyn Linehan


A freshman during COVID, Kaitlyn Linehan had limited exposure to Learning Assistants outside of Zoom classes. Entering sophomore year during her organic chemistry class, the nutritional science major was introduced to the in-class LA benefits- an experience that would inspire her to become an LA herself and whose work we are honored to feature in our LA of the Month Spotlight.

Kaitlyn now works with Dr. Prado in her chemistry courses that follow a flipped classroom dynamic. Dr. Prado gives Kaitlyn and the other 7 LAs present in her class the answer key to the day’s problems prior to class. They then move from group to group or student to student helping them with questions.

In our talk, Kaitlyn explained how some students, when they struggle, simply wait for the professor to answer the problem for the class and write down their method. Kaitlyn, however, makes sure to guide students through the problem so that they can arrive at the solution in their own way, a way that is more likely to stick with them down the line.

Kaitlyn mentions the repeat students she meets during office hours and how inspiring it is to see the material finally “click.” Often Kaitlyn will recommend ways to structure and systematically work through problems. When these same students return and Kaitlyn observes the implementation of her suggested methods, she describes it as “inspiring and encouraging.”

Kaitlyn hosts office hours immediately before or after class to help students by providing convenient and available help. She notes that some students come to her for help and expect black-and-white answers or the work to be done for them and can grow frustrated when presented with more educational steps. “We won’t be there with them taking the test,” Kaitlyn said.

Despite this mentality, Kaitlyn then goes on to mention how some of these same students go on to succeed in the course by utilizing her tips; she recalls running into past students she’s worked with throughout campus and the friendly conversations that often take place as they recall their time working together.

Moving forward, Kaitlyn looks to pursue a master's degree in the nutritional field. She explained her interest in becoming a teaching assistant and attributes this goal to the positive experience she’s had as a Learning Assistant.

To her peers throughout COSAM here at Auburn, Kaitlyn highly encourages LAP as a “rewarding and low-maintenance” on-campus job perfect for students interested in helping others or looking to solidify the fundamental knowledge from past core classes. Kaitlyn looks forward to continuing to work with AULAP noting: “[LAP] has been a highlight of my time at Auburn.”


For general inquiries about LAs and the program, contact Dr. Min Zhong.
For additional information specific to departments, please contact the departmental LA coordinators.

Min Zhong: zhongmi@auburn.edu

Math and Statistics:
Heather Haskell: hgh0035@auburn.edu

Rachel Prado: jrp0089@auburn.edu
Dave Crisostomo: dac0056@auburn.edu

Daniel Merrill: dam0040@auburn.edu
Melissa Halford: mrh0091@auburn.edu

Adam Payne: aap0047@auburn.edu
John Fronimos: jaf0086@auburn.edu