Providing an innovative educational experience for our community of learners is a central focus of the Department of Marine and Environmental Sciences, so we are proud to congratulate this year’s College of Science Dean’s Award for Graduate Student Excellence in Teaching, Sara Schaal.
Sara is an Ecology, Evolution and Marine Biology PhD candidate in the Lotterhos Lab at the Marine Science Center. Her research focuses on adaptation in marine fishes through the lenses of genetic evolution and climate change. Sara presented her latest research on Atlantic cod diversity earlier this semester at Nordic Society Oikos in Reykjavik, Iceland, along with fellow Lotterhos Lab researchers Dr. Áki Láruson and PhD Candidate Alan Downey-Wall. Sara was nominated for the Dean’s Award by her PhD advisor Dr. Katie Lotterhos, who teaches the Biostatistics course for which Sara is a teaching assistant.
Sara has been leading the lab sections of Biostatistics for several years and has made a significant positive impact on the trajectories of students in the course. Lauren, an undergrad in the Biostatistics lab that Sara ran, explained that while many students in her lab section were initially resistant and unfamiliar with programming, Sara was able introduce the R program in an accessible way. Lauren actually found herself aspiring to learn more about programming in general and how she could use it in the future, thanks to Sara’s guidance during the lab. Lauren shared that, “Sara has mastered the ability to provide comprehensive explanations with patience and empathy for her students… I am indebted to Sara for instilling this programming confidence in me and demonstrating that with an effective teacher, one can learn to enjoy a complex activity that once seemed impossible.”
Sara admits that it took a while to learn how to manage a classroom of students that all move at different paces and how to keep all students engaged and excited about the materials even when they were struggling. But all the effort and adaptation has been more than worth it, Sara says, adding that, “Teaching these students how to code has honestly been one of the most rewarding parts of my PhD. Coding has been so integral to my development as a scientist and being able to teach students how to code and inspire them to use it in their future careers has been a joy for me.”
Sara’s accomplishments epitomize the teaching and research efforts by so many of our graduate students, who become both resources and inspirations to undergraduate students they teach. Congratulations, Sara!