Chemistry graduate students Cordelia Beck-Horton and Maggie Lakomy have been named recipients of the 2022-2023 Harold F. Martin Graduate Assistant Outstanding Teaching Award.
Jointly sponsored by the Penn State Graduate School, the Office of the Vice President, and the Dean for Undergraduate Education, this university-wide honor recognizes graduate students who have distinguished themselves as passionate and excellent educators. The award is named for Harold F. Martin, who earned his doctoral degree in education in 1954, and retired as a director in the Pennsylvania Department of Education.
Cordelia Beck-Horton is a third-year graduate student in the lab of Eric Nacsa, assistant professor of chemistry at Penn State. Beck-Horton received this award in recognition of their impactful teaching assistantships for two undergraduate organic chemistry courses and a lab (CHEM 210, CHEM 212, CHEM 213W). During their time as a teaching assistant, Beck-Horton has assumed many responsibilities such as generating new course content, managing Learning Assistants and grading schedules, piloting out-of-the-classroom workshops for problem solving, and being readily available for student questions. Many students and instructors praised Beck-Horton for their ability to explain abstract concepts to a wide range of students, and for being empathetic in their approach.
One student nominator wrote, “Cordelia was extremely dedicated and willing to sacrifice...clearly a TA who wants the students to succeed rather than someone going through the motions.”
Eric Nacsa, a faculty nominator, was greatly impressed by Beck-Horton's “ability to answer students’ questions with questions. This approach sets students on the right track while maintaining their opportunity to learn the material by continuing to struggle with it, which a ‘straight answer’ would preclude.”
Beck-Horton's overarching teaching philosophy is focused on student growth. “I always emphasize that a better understanding should be their primary goal. Students often have a particular grade in mind, but I find the most effective and satisfying way to get there is by targeting skills instead of grades. Once they adopt this growth mindset, the grades seem to follow.”
Maggie Lakomy is a fourth-year graduate student in the lab of Ramesh Giri, professor of chemistry. She received this award in recognition of her passion for teaching two undergraduate organic chemistry courses (CHEM 202 and CHEM 203). Lakomy has been praised for her kindness in mentoring students and effective outreach abilities. She is involved in recruiting and training high school students as well as preparing undergraduate students for research training in the Giri group. She has also mentored many students in various undergraduate research programs such as the Chemistry Undergraduate Research Initiative (CURIE) Program, Chemistry REU, and Envision: STEM Career Day Supporting Young Women.
A student nominator wrote, “Maggie was great at making sure we all felt comfortable and confident in the lab. She was very knowledgeable and always knew what to do should an accident happen, or mistake occur.”
Faculty nominator Kyle Schmid, assistant teaching professor, took note of Lakomy’s kindness to students. “In the height of the pandemic, many of our students were feeling stressed, anxious, and lost, as was everyone else,” he said. “Maggie would often write words of encouragement on her students' fume hoods in the lab before they arrived to let them know how much they mattered and that she cared for them.”
Lakomy’s teaching philosophy involves changing the narrative that organic chemistry is a formidable subject. “I design my courses so that students feel comfortable asking questions and making mistakes, build their knowledge and self-confidence, and gain an appreciation for the subject,” she said. “Upon consideration of this and the research concerning the benefits of active learning, I incorporate group work throughout my lectures. This provides students with an opportunity to begin applying new concepts in a low stakes environment where they can quickly receive feedback.”