Involvement in Learning, a publication by the Carnegie Foundation in Support of Teaching and Learning (1984), noted that students feel more connected to their academic experience when engaged in meaningful activity. A hallmark of an undergraduate education at Utah State University is hands-on learning, evidenced in activities such as undergraduate research, service learning, and meaningful academic employment.
The Utah State University Undergraduate Teaching Fellows Program (UTF) is specifically designed to offer students a rewarding experience in the delivery of classroom instruction. The UTF program has several advantages. First, students selected to serve as Undergraduate Teaching Fellows are among the best in participating departments. In contrast to a scholarship that offers a one-time benefit, the UTF program offers financial support to worthy students and gives these students important skills and experiences that can translate into enhanced résumés that position them well for graduate studies or employment. Students who have been selected as UTFs in the past have cited a number of advantages:
"I got an insider's look at what it takes to teach a class; it's an amazing amount of work, and the time in class itself is just the tip of the iceberg. I've a much greater appreciation of what goes on behind the scenes."
"Because I had worked closely with a faculty mentor, she knew my abilities first hand and wrote great letters of recommendation for me, citing specific examples from my semester with her. The result? I got a wonderful fellowship for graduate school, and the graduate advisor told me that my work as a UTF made the difference."
"Even though I'd had the class before, I was compelled to really master the material as the students expected me to be an expert. It's really true that if you have to teach it, you learn it better."
"It may sound kind of cheesy, but I feel like I'm a better Aggie. I really identify with the university, and I've got a better understanding of other students. It has also made me much more aware of my own behavior as a student in class."
Other beneficiaries of the UTF Program are the students within the course itself. In their evaluations of the UTFs, they appreciated having a peer sounding board that could help them decode information about the course. "Asking another student about what the assignment requires is easier than asking the professor," noted one student. UTFs are often perceived to be more approachable and accessible. UTFs offer reassurance to students that the class is manageable, that it is not a mysterious process, and that the professor cares about the students' success. "My UTF gave me tips for success that were great; it helped enormously that she had taken the course and was experienced in what should be emphasized. It helped me prioritize," noted a student in an end-of-term evaluation.
For faculty members who work with UTFs, they carry the responsibility of ensuring that the experience is valuable for the student, but they also gain from having UTFs assigned to their courses. Comments from faculty who have worked with UTFs follow:
"Scaling up to larger classes has been eased by having a UTF working with me; the logistics are not so daunting when someone is helping to manage the paperwork."
"My fellow gave me insights into how the assignments were perceived. He pointed out where instructions had confused students. As a result, I revamped assignments. In addition, the UTF provided early-warning signals about who was in trouble and needed additional help."
"The UTF is a tremendous resource; just the pre-test and post-test review sessions helped a lot. My UTF did kind of triage, taking care of the simple Q&A, which freed up my time."
"For me the UTF was a stage in apprenticeship; the undergraduate who worked with me was so good that after her UTF year, she moved into employment as a research assistant. I was very pleased to see her placed in a solid graduate program with significant support."
The testimonials to the efficacy of the Undergraduate Teaching Fellows Program indicate that everyone benefits. The roles and responsibilities section of this guidebook draws on the experiences of former supervisors and fellows, noting how to avoid pitfalls and problems.
An orientation to the UTF program for faculty and new fellows occurs early each fall. Thank you for being part of a program that demonstrates Utah State really thinks carefully about undergraduate education and supports hands-on learning.
The UTF Program is administered by the Office of the Provost with specific responsibility vested in an Associate Dean of each college. See list of contacts on page 21 of this guidebook.
Provost's Office Contact:
Dr. Laurens H. Smith, Ph.D.
Executive Senior Vice Provost
Old Main 142