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The Learning Assistant Experience

Person-to-person: Alexa Derago
8 May 2019

Alexa Derago, an undergraduate student who took the biocalculus sequence of classes and later served as a learning assistant for the courses, answered some questions for us about her experience:


What led you to taking biocalculus?

“I was advised to take the biocalculus sequence instead of the traditional calculus classes because I was a Premedicine major my freshman year.”


What was your experience like in the classes? Did getting exposed to calculus in the context of biology help your understanding?

“My experience in Math 140B and 141B was great! I took the classes with Eric Simring, and he was a phenomenal instructor. The classes really reinforced my love for math. Prior to biocalculus, I didn’t really understand how math was useful in its application. After taking this class, my knowledge of biology was strengthened by the mathematics I had learned.”


How did these classes impact your educational plans/goals?

“These classes completely changed my educational plans. My goal when starting college was to attend medical school. After taking biocalculus, I decided to change my major to math, and I plan on pursuing a Ph.D. in mathematics.”


What made you decide to become a learning assistant (LA) for biocalculus?

“I decided to become a learning assistant because my experience in the class was so great. Even before becoming an LA, office hours were very interactive, and I was always helping my peers with their work by explaining how I approached the problem. I was excited by the idea of being able to help more people as an LA.”


How do LAs help with the class?

“LAs typically will help students with problems during class and at LA problem sessions. Most of the professors will take time out of lecture to have the students work together on practice problems. This is when the LAs are able to go around and help answer questions. Our main purpose is to give students guidance on how to approach the problems, rather than just giving them the answers.”


How would you describe your overall experience with biocalculus?

“My overall experience has been incredible. Biocalculus and the support I received from the professors influenced my decision to pursue mathematics. I have worked with Andrew Belmonte and Eric Simring in the classes, but all of the biocalculus professors work together as a team, so I could always go to one of the other professors if I had questions. In fact, I’m still able to go to any of the biocalculus professors with questions from my other math classes, and they are thrilled to help.”


Would you recommend these classes to other students?

“I would definitely recommend these classes to other students! The class material is very interesting, and the professors who teach it are amazing and really care about their students.”