As an undergraduate student at Georgia State University (GSU), I observed that the most successful scientists are those who care. This generosity of spirit towards other people, manifested through continuous, passionate, and never-ending dedication to intellectual enlightenment, is an essential part of academic life. This is how one makes a difference. I make a difference through my commitment to teaching. For example, during my sophomore year I tutored one-on-one approximately 150 calculus students during the summer and fall semesters in the Math Assistance Complex. Subsequently, in the Mathematical Interactive Learning Environment (MILE), I provided homework support for nearly 100 students enrolled in Elementary Statistics. However, my dedication to teaching is best demonstrated through my involvement in the Supplemental Instructions (SI) program at GSU.
During my junior year, I was hired as a Supplemental Instructor for General Chemistry. It was my first time managing 30 students – and teaching them concepts in English that I, as a native Russian speaker, had only learned recently. Yet, no matter how hard it was getting used to being a leader, how impossible it seemed to collect myself after making a mistake, or how embarrassing it was to confess not having the answer to a student’s question, I realized that teaching was an innate part of my personality. Students’ attendance was voluntary in the SI program. Consequently, each SI leader could accurately measure success by the number of students attending the sessions. Over four semesters in the program, my attendance rates were very high, over 80 percent. My SI mentors gave me exceptional feedback regarding my student-to-student interaction, my re-direction of questions, the descriptiveness of my handouts and the overall quality of my instructions. My goal was to inspire students to think outside the school curriculum. Quite often discussions went off the beaten track, leading us into uncharted scientific territory. This happened with one of my best physical chemistry students (she was later accepted to a prestigious chemical engineering program.) She preferred raising challenging questions after class to avoid interrupting the flow. Although the class ended at 8:05 p.m., by the end of the semester five students had joined our post-class conversations. Teaching experiences like these are crucial to life in academia and to the future of science. For me, the type of appreciation that comes from like-minded, caring students is the best reward.
As a graduate student, I am continuing to make a difference by teaching weekly tutorials in the Chemistry Department and preparing curriculum for a new mathematics course: Calculus for Life Sciences. This teaching is in addition to my research on DNA quadruplex-specific cyanine dyes, small molecules that exhibit anticancer activity and are good drug candidates. I plan to continue my education in biophysical chemistry as a Ph.D. student. Ultimately, I hope to become a faculty member at a leading research university, where my dedication to intellectual enlightenment and desire to make a difference will be rewarded with the appreciation of a bright young generation also seeking to make a difference through science.
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