‘UTeach’ What You Know

By Colleen Bromberger
Staff Writer

Professors truly have a lot to put up with from students. In the average lecture size class at UC Irvine, most students are either texting, on Facebook, doodling in their notebooks or sleeping. It is a miracle that most professors are not completely discouraged from teaching because of the lack of attention the average student gives in their class; however, something about choosing a life devoted to academia is an honorable, and dare I say, even attractive career choice that few students give attention to when choosing their future professions.

This is why UCI’s relatively young program, entitled “UTeach,” is one of the most interesting and unique programs on campus; it offers undergraduate students the chance to try out teaching on their very own peers.

The name “UTeach” explains exactly what the association is all about: you teaching. A year-long survey in academic scholarship, UTeach participants spend the fall quarter researching a specific topic with a faculty mentor, winter quarter taking a 2-unit Pass/No Pass seminar about the methods of teaching with their fellow seminar instructors, and finally the spring quarter in teaching their very own course.

It is currently a very small program, only about 15 to 20 student seminar instructors a year, but it is quickly growing and becoming more popular among third- and fourth-year students.

So, what could possibly make a student want to give up their precious time in order to teach a topic they have only researched for a quarter to fellow peers who may not appreciate the subject matter?

The answer varies. However, according to two UTeach instructors, the passion that these students have for their topics supersedes all other possible issues.

Alexandra Lossada, a third-year English major and creator/instructor of the seminar entitled “Writing the South: Labor, Race, and Gender in the Southern Short Story,” explains that her love for reading American Southern authors was one of the primary reasons for the creation of the course.

“I was born and raised on ‘Gone with the Wind,’ so the romantic image of the South pervaded my childhood,” Lossada said. “But as I began reading more works, particularly by Tennessee Williams, I became fascinated by the tension between the South’s modernization,or lack thereof, and the desire to keep certain Southern ‘ideals’ in practice. So much blood and sweat has been spilt in order to maintain the South’s romantic veneer.”

Another aspect of student teaching is the intimidation of instructing people that are the same age — or possibly even older — than oneself. However, Lossada knows her passion for teaching overcomes any and all fears she might have of instructing.

“If I think about it, I get a little nervous about teaching students my age or older,” she said. “But from past experiences, I always feel that the front of the classroom is where I belong and that when I teach, I am my best self.”

Another instructor, fourth-year chemistry major and education minor Shaun Galvan, discusses how he chose his seminar topic entitled, “Chemistry of Counterterrorism.” According to Galvan, his prior experiences of working hands-on in the field contributed largely to the creation of his seminar.

“Last summer, I worked under the auspices of both the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and Department of Energy at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) on a synthetic and characterization project that would be applicable to specifically explosives detection,” he said. “Some of my course content will even include discussion of unclassified research that is currently in development at LLNL.”

With such an in-depth and specific course subject in the hard sciences, it could deter some right-brained students away from his course; however, Galvan’s course is not exclusively for the scientifically gifted.

“I purposely designed the course to where anyone of any academic background could participate,” he said. “As far as students that may have previous background in the subject, I welcome them to enroll as well. I am not in any way intimidated by their background and in fact, they may be able to contribute even more to the overall class discussion about select topics.”

The variety of classes taught this year, including an instructional seminar on sewing, a course on gender in Japanese manga and a class on controversial science topics, shows a broad spectrum of passion that these undergrads have for their given subjects. Lots of love, time and effort has gone in to creating a variety of spring quarter seminars, thus showing how passion for academia can supersede all the fear and anxiety that the classroom might bring. For more information about the classes offered in the 2012 spring quarter, or for about joining the 2012-2013 program, please visit http://www.asuci.uci.edu/uteach/index.php.