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Students teaching students

Alex Nguyen-Phuc

Alex Nguyen-Phuc

BS ‘18, MA ‘20
Earth Systems Program

When Alex Nguyen-Phuc, BS ‘18, MA ‘20, took Introduction to Earth Systems (EARTHSYS 10) as a junior, she was thrilled to find fellow students amongst the environmental educators at Stanford Earth – and her Teaching Assistant (TA) Adrienne Pollack, BS ‘16, MS ’17, made a lasting impression. Inspired by Pollack’s kindness and dedication to her students, Nguyen-Phuc decided to follow in her footsteps and help teach the course a few years later.

“It was a reward and privilege that we could shape the educations of so many students through decisions like what articles to include with homework, or how to structure exams to test interdisciplinary application,” Nguyen-Phuc said.

Being the head TA was no easy feat, especially with course enrollment at an all-time high in 2020. Working alongside her co-head TA Natasha Batista, BS ’18, MS ’20, and a team of seven other TAs and four graders, Nguyen-Phuc’s responsibilities included assisting with curriculum development, finding guest speakers, creating and grading homework and tests, and running smaller sections to review class material.

“One of the most frustrating aspects was setting course policies and then figuring out how to enforce them. Students are all over the place, with a million other commitments. We had to toe the line between enforcing strict policies for the sake of fairness, versus acting empathetically as students ourselves.” But all the stress and work were worth it, she said.

One of her favorite moments of being a TA came during her last office hours before the final exam. As she walked into the room, it was filled with her students who came just to say “hi” and “thank you” and spend time together. She was able to create a warm and open community for her students, just like her head TA before her.

“I loved teaching in a formal setting, but I think the experience actually emphasized the importance of creating informal moments for environmental education,” Nguyen-Phuc said. “Few people have the privilege of taking Earth systems courses, so how do we bring Earth systems to a wider audience?”

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