Graduate teaching assistant honored by College of LAS for service to students

The College of LAS recently recognized 14 professors, graduate students, lecturers, and an advisor as the recipients of the 2023 teaching and advising awards, including Katie VanDyne, a graduate teaching assistant in the Department of Spanish & Portuguese. She was selected for the LAS Dean’s Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching.

VanDyne has taught 11 different courses in her six years with the department. She has been the instructor of record for elementary and intermediate Spanish language courses, Spanish composition and grammar, and 300-level courses for Spanish majors and minors.

Students praised her skill in making challenging concepts clear, as well as her energy and enthusiasm. One wrote that her “contagiously positive energy, as well as her willingness to get to know all her students on a personal level, helped to create a tight-knit community atmosphere.” 

We recently caught up with her and spoke with her about her role.

Can you describe your work within the school?

I am a PhD candidate in Spanish linguistics and a graduate teaching assistant in the Department of Spanish & Portuguese. I teach undergraduate Spanish language and linguistics courses.

What impact do you hope to have on your students and department?

Overall, in any class I teach, I hope that students leave having a solid understanding of the content taught in the course, but equally importantly that they also improve their confidence in their language abilities, writing, and critical thinking skills, motivating them to continue studying Spanish or otherwise engage with the language. 

Particularly in the grammar and linguistic-focused classes I teach, I hope my students connect with the language on a new level, ignited by their deeper knowledge of the structure of the language. By thinking critically about the linguistic mechanisms underlying how words are used and combined to express ideas, I want students to feel more ownership and confidence towards (sometimes daunting!) topics like grammar.

Beyond the course, I hope that their linguistic knowledge serves as a backdrop to develop a deeper appreciation of how these structures come together and are expertly—and intuitively—controlled by speakers to form rhetoric, prose, poetry, and everyday speech. Language is a unique and integral aspect of humanity and I hope that students gain not only an understanding, but also an admiration, of the internal complexities of the languages they speak.

What do you enjoy most about your role?

I really enjoy how the small class sizes are very conducive to being able to get to know each student, work with them on an individual level, and adapt courses to reflect students’ interests or needs. The students I teach all have different backgrounds and experiences with Spanish as well as a wide range of different majors and professional goals. In the classroom, where we are all brought together by our shared interest in the Spanish language, these different perspectives make for interesting discussions and questions, and we all learn a lot from each other. As much as I enjoy learning about all of my students, I also really enjoy witnessing the relationships they build with each other—people they may have not otherwise crossed paths with—over the course of the semester.

What’s your proudest achievement?

When I started as a TA, I had a lot of prior experience as a tutor, but I had never taught a whole class before. I think that I am most proud of starting at that point, where I was unsure of how I would be as an instructor, and now being both comfortable and confident in this role. It has provided me the opportunity to learn how much I enjoy teaching. To me, teaching is an incredible responsibility, and it is a job I take very seriously. I am constantly reflecting on my teaching and learning about ways to improve.

Anything else you’d like to add?

I am very fortunate to be part of a department that highly values teaching and has offered many opportunities to advance and refine my teaching skills. Since my first semester of teaching, I have been supported and set up for success, which I directly attribute to my confidence in the classroom and the development of my passion for teaching. I am grateful to be surrounded by so many knowledgeable teaching assistants, instructors, and professors, from whom I have received invaluable advice and guidance.

Dania De La Hoya Rojas