Department of History
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.

Rodolfo John Alaniz of History is one of the three faculty members who received the award in April 2016. Laura Stoker, professor of political science and chair 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

GSIs credited John for modeling exceptional skills in designing courses and assignments:

John designs the course syllabus with GSIs in mind. Papers build on one another, making grading easier (and giving the students the opportunity to delve into original research and refine their project over time). Assignments were staggered at appropriate intervals, and final papers were due well before the end of the semester, giving us the last couple of weeks of the semester to focus on our own work.
Before each assignment, John was explicit about clarifying intended learning goals for each assignment and encouraged my fellow GSI and I also to be open about our learning outcomes when we explained assignments in section. Developing this practice over the semester helped me gain a clearer and more specified sense of my purpose in the classroom and my part in guiding students toward these learning outcomes.

The GSIs appreciated how John treated both students and GSIs as junior scholars:

In lecture and office hours, he addressed the students as junior scholars, encouraging them to do original work and eliciting their opinions on the material being covered. He also took care to regularly invoke the GSIs as his co-teachers — a subtle and effective cue to the students that they should respect us as they did him.
John’s foundational commitment to open communication, professional responsibility and integrity, and fostering growth in students, GSIs, and himself set the tone from the beginning that we were a teaching team.

John provided excellent ongoing support for his GSIs throughout the semester and invited feedback from them:

John met with us weekly to discuss upcoming lectures and assignments, and to address whatever questions or concerns we might have. He was very open and supportive about sharing tips for how to improve discussions (such as setting learning objectives for each section, and enlisting more talkative students in encouraging less talkative ones to speak up), and giving practical tips about how to grade papers and exams efficiently and effectively. At the same time, he gave us a great degree of flexibility in how we wanted to run section, encouraging us to experiment with whatever techniques we saw fit and offering comments when we reported back. Based on our feedback, he also make modifications to his lecture to address the students’ needs — for example, adding an in-class exercise about how to write concisely.

GSIs summarized John’s mentorship in this way:

Through conversing with John during our weekly meetings and watching him interact with students in class, I learned what it meant to be a compassionate teacher, one who recognized that student success was not formulaic and groomed in the classroom alone but, rather, something that required appreciating students as constantly engaged in a larger process of self-understanding and growth.