The small rewards are sometimes the best

Posted: July 25, 2016, 4:21pm

Last month I had the opportunity to set up a tour of USC for the eighth grade class of a middle school in downtown LA. Like I mentioned in one of my previous blog posts, I have been going to this middle school a few days every week to be a “PhD liaison” to the students there. I taught a few lessons, supported the teacher in the ways I could as an engineer, and talked about life in graduate school and college. After the semester ended, the whole class came for a tour of USC and a tour of some of the labs in the engineering department and then a visit to the California Science Center.

This semester teaching in downtown LA I probably learned more about myself than the kids learned from me, and for that I am grateful. I wasn’t sure how I would end up reacting to the opportunity during the first weeks. In the past, I have been a teaching assistant for students around my age at USC, and this was a whole new ball game. The 8th graders differ in interest level and maturity level, to say the least! But I wanted to write this update to mention how the experience profoundly affected my heart and how grateful I am for the experience and for the opportunity to let the kids impact me. Here’s a picture of the “thank you” posters the two classes made for me! It may seem like a small thing, but to me it meant the world.

Teachers teach

This experience has also helped me realize something about myself: at a really basic and fundamental level, I really enjoy teaching. Yes, this semester I happened to be teaching 8th graders when I’m normally more comfortable with graduate students (or even undergrads). But the fundamentals of teaching remain the same: passing on knowledge and critical thinking skills about a subject so that a student can utilize those skills someday without the teacher, and hopefully one day surpass even the mastery of the master and thus be beneficial for the advancement of the field.

Like I mentioned previously, during the first few weeks of teaching 8th graders, I noticed a stark difference between my usual teaching experiences and this class. I would have to change my style to suit the interest level of the students. I tried to think back to my time in middle school and remember what had originally inspired me to become an engineer. On this side of college, I know that the mentorship and guidance of those who came before me was what inspired me to try something new and pursue engineering without the faintest clue what i was getting into. Obviously I support any and all career possibilities that these bright-eyed kids might one day pursue, but I definitely consider myself an engineering evangelist. They might not otherwise meet someone who knows this field, or who went to graduate school. A lot of them have never been told to take a chance to follow their dreams. Even if they have big dreams, it’s an amazing opportunity to be able point them in the right direction and give a tiny push or a boost in their step-by-step journey of life.

Speaking of giving a boost, I know that’s what they did for me. I didn’t originally think that teaching eighth graders would have as great an impact on me as it did, but I’ve realized that I have the heart to teach. Teachers teach. Whether it is eighth graders or graduate students. Whether it is engineering or just something that I learned while reading Wikipedia, I’m always happy to pass on the knowledge. And I’m thankful to have this teaching experience to help hone this craft in a new and unexpected way! I’ll definitely miss it.


Published on July 25th, 2017

Last updated on August 10th, 2017