Britney Phippen - Award Winner

The Graduate School and Center for Graduate Life (CGL) recently presented the annual awards for outstanding work as graduate teaching assistants to two graduate students at UNC Charlotte.

GTAs play an important role at UNC Charlotte assisting faculty in a myriad of ways including teaching courses, preparing assignments, meeting with students, and grading.  All graduate teaching assistants receive training through the Graduate Teaching Initiative, which is an important one in the growth of the University.  Over 50 people gathered in the CGL for the ceremony and reception hosted by Dr. Judith Krauss, Faculty Associate for the Center for Graduate Life, and leader of the Graduate Teaching Initiative. 

The Outstanding Graduate Teaching Assistant Award recognizes two students, one at the doctoral level, and one at the master's level, for their commitment to excellence in teaching. These two separate awards allow faculty to recognize the different tasks and demands placed upon graduate teaching assistants at each level.   Fourteen nominations were submitted with students representing nearly every college.   This year’s judges were Dr. Scott Fitzgerald (Sociology), Dr. Eric Heggestad (Psychology), and Dr. Barry Wilkinson (Computer Science), who said it was extremely difficult to single out one winner.

The winner at the doctoral level was Britney Phippen, Department of Biological Sciences, whose nominators Professors Tonya Bates and Michelle Pass shared how much students appreciate her passion and zest for Biology, as well as her ability to explain things in a way that makes Biology accessible for non-science majors.   

“I know that the majority of my students will only be exposed to science in my classroom, as most will go on to major in other fields,” explains Phippen.  “However these same students will have to make decisions in their lives that directly relate to biological principles and they should be educated in their decisions.”

In addition to teaching the Principles of Biology lab and the Genetics lab courses, she updated the Biology 1110 Lab Manual as well as developed new lab activities and created innovative assignments.

The winner at the master's level was Rahul Upadhyay from the Mechanical Engineering department.   He taught courses including Computational Methods for Engineers; Introduction to Finite Element Analysis; and Introduction to Solid Mechanics.  Upadhyay is revered by his students with one even saying he’s the most helpful GTA they had in their entire college career!

“As a TA for courses that are mathematically and computationally intensive, he sees students who struggle and need significant help,” says Dr. Harish Cherukuri who nominated Upadhyay.  “Rahul is very good at providing individual class support to students by helping them debug their code, and often times staying after class to do so.”

Upadhyay’s teaching philosophy states that he “respects the intellectual appetite and avoids force feeding; develops intellectual curiosity and avoids spoon-feeding”.

Nominees must submit applications with original classroom materials, undergraduate students' evaluations, a letter of recommendation from their faculty supervisor, a teaching philosophy, and other evidence of their skill in the craft of teaching and their commitment to improving student learning.

 A long-time supporter of opportunities for graduate teaching, Dr. Joan Lorden, UNC Charlotte Provost, spoke at the ceremony.

“We appreciate your contribution to the overall goals of the University,” she said.  “The professoriate looks to you going forward.  We have a very diverse student population here not unlike what might be representative of the kind of institution you’d teach at in the future.  You have great people to learn from and great opportunity to do it at UNC Charlotte.”

Each recipient was presented with a $500 prize and an award plaque.

For information on the Center for Graduate Life’s Teaching Initiative, visit their website at

Article originally appeared on Graduate School News