Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering
Recipient, Faculty Award for Outstanding Mentorship of GSIs

Background of the Award

Excerpts from the GSIs’ Nomination Letters

Background of the Award

Each spring graduate students are invited to nominate faculty members for the Faculty Award for Outstanding Mentorship of GSIs. Typically each nomination is supported by several GSIs who have worked with the honoree. The award, sponsored by the Graduate Council’s Advisory Committee for GSI Affairs and the GSI Teaching & Resource Center, is presented as a surprise in the faculty member’s classroom, with the GSIs and other departmental faculty and staff present.

Clayton Radke of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering is one of four faculty members who received the award in April 2018. Lew Feldman, professor of Plant and Microbial Biology and committee member of the Graduate Council’s Faculty Committee for GSI Affairs, presented the award plaque.

The excerpts below reflect mentoring activities that the GSI found especially effective.

Excerpts from the GSIs’ Nomination Letters

Professor Radke’s GSIs describe his overall style as follows:

“The remarkable quality that makes Prof. Radke an excellent teaching mentor is his ability to build and lead a team with the GSIs, which forges a sense of shared enterprise, responsibility, and teamwork in education.”

 His GSIs note that he does this in a variety of ways, before the semester begins and then throughout the semester.

 “Professor Radke did what all great mentors do: provide clear goals for success and also room for growth. From day one as GSIs under Professor Radke, our duties were clear—holding office hours, discussion sections, managing the class website and grades, and developing solutions and grading rubrics for homework and exams. Importantly, in providing these goals, Professor Radke provided ample academic freedom for growth. For example, we were given full control of discussion sections – how they were run and what content we would cover.”

“He met with us as a group weekly, he trained us in writing exam problems, he divided work fairly between himself and the GSIs, he taught us strategies to assign exam and course grades, he guided us through ethical dilemmas and sensitive student issues, he outlined clear expectations for our time, and he was always available if we had issues. At first, I thought Professor Radke’s effort was excessive. As the semester progressed, however, I quickly realized its necessity. I have come to understand that such methodical preparation is a prerequisite for effective teaching.”

 GSIs also noted his openness to GSI ideas and his support in their individual development as teachers:

 “During our meetings, Professor Radke maintained an atmosphere of open communication with GSIs, making sure our concerns were heard and that we ourselves, were developing as GSI mentees. In these meetings, we often tackled issues of writing exam problems and answering students’ questions from lectures. I could always count on him to guide me whenever I was stuck in a pedagogical quandary. What stood out the most to me in our interactions was that he didn’t see me as his minion, but instead he encouraged me as an independent teacher to take initiative and design my own office hours, discussions and also review sessions.”

“He transformed the way I viewed teaching and taught us that teaching is not transactional; it is not simply a teacher listing information that a student must transcribe. Instead, he sought to help his students build a framework for interpreting new information and integrating it into their current knowledge base.”

Professor Radke also modelled respect and understanding for students in his mentoring:

“During our weekly meetings he was also keen to brainstorm different ways to teach specific topics, especially when students were seemingly struggling with a particular concept. This challenged me to think critically and creatively with him towards drawing analogies between topics in the course that would help students grasp the material. He was always attentive and receptive to my ideas and feedback.”

“While I knew he was an exceptionally committed teacher even before being his GSI, I was actually surprised to see how caring and sympathetic he was towards the struggles many first-year graduate students face in adapting to a new and challenging environment. He was acutely aware of which students were struggling and often asked me to update him on their performance and reach out to ensure they had the support they needed to succeed and thrive at UC Berkeley.”

Many of the GSIs who wrote letters nominating Professor Radke are now professors themselves, and they mention in their letters his impact on their work now as faculty:

“The skills I learned as a GSI under Professor Radke allowed me to enter the classroom with confidence on day one, and are critical in teaching effectively while also managing my nascent lab.”

“Professor Radke is an outstanding mentor of GSIs. His balanced approach to mentorship has provided me with many of the skills I use today in teaching undergraduates. In mentoring my own teaching assistants, I consciously try to emulate Professor Radke’s balance between clear goals and room for growth.”

“I learned many skills in working with Professor Radke as a GSI, but the one that has been most instrumental to me, both as a GSI, researcher, and now as junior faculty member, is the ability to solve problems on my feet, in front of a large group of people. Berkeley undergraduates are exceptional, and teaching them a complex subject like fluid mechanics can be a challenge, especially when they ask questions you had not prepared for. Professor Radke gave me one-on- one mentoring and advice on how to take a step back, think through their questions, see where potential confusion might be arising from, and then work to solve the problem together with them. Obviously, there were times when I made mistakes at the board in front of my section, but Professor Radke pointed out that those mistakes were often good learning moments for the students, and them catching those mistakes meant they were thinking along with me, not just coping notes mindlessly. I have no doubt that the experience I gained in working with Professor Radke and teaching his students allowed me to be successful in future courses I GSI’ed at Berkeley as well as on my oral exams, talks at major conferences, my job talks, and now in my own classroom.”

His GSIs sum up his impact on them in the following way:

“Working with Professor Radke as a GSI has been an absolute privilege and without question, the most rewarding and enjoyable experience of my teaching career.”

“Professor Radke elevates the GSI role from a simple student-GSI classroom interaction, to a broader and cohesive synergy between all components of a course. His passion for his profession translates into challenges for students and GSIs that not only enrich the teaching and learning experience, but also motivate them to improve on a daily basis. His mentorship and energy should serve as an example to every faculty member at an institution such as the University of California, Berkeley.”

Congratulations, Professor Radke!