STATEMENT ON TEACHING PHILOSOPHY

As a graduate student in environmental engineering, I have had the unique opportunity to traverse disciplinary boundaries in my learning experience and have come to appreciate the value of approaching science and engineering from different perspectives. My understanding of engineered systems for environmental applications has become deeply rooted in the fundamentals of molecular and cellular biology, soil and analytical chemistry, and soil and water physics from the viewpoint of molecular microbiologists, soil microbiologists, hydrogeologists, soil chemists, soil physicists, botanists, and engineers. This understanding has fostered an appreciation not only for whole systems design and performance, but also the molecular events associated with changing environmental insults which result in the cellular, chemical, and physical alterations defining system performance.

My learning experience has left me with a strong belief in an interdisciplinary approach to teaching environmental engineering. This approach is reflected in my interaction with undergraduate students seeking to understand the gross effects of environmental pollution and how we as engineers design systems to treat and prevent polluted systems, as well as interaction with graduate students seeking guidance and understanding of molecular events associated with treatment or interference of treatment within natural and engineered systems. By opening different avenues of exploration to engineering challenges, students can use different disciplinary approaches to view information and synthesize more comprehensive explanations of the events that are at the root of the challenge at hand. Considering the ecology, biochemistry, and genetics of a biological engineered system, for example, opens the proverbial black box of the microbial community structure and function, and may lead to better understanding and predictability of system performance. This leads to students who are capable of moving from a bulk trial and error approach of exploring engineered systems towards students who are capable of identifying the root of engineering challenges and designing systems that specifically address the appropriate issue. In this way, students discover that environmental engineering is an amalgamation of several disciplines and that engineering and science are a cohesive entity. No single engineering or scientific approach can fully answer all engineering challenges.

Around this framework I have structured my teaching philosophy. As a teaching assistant for an undergraduate environmental engineering course at Iowa State University, I have been responsible for taking students on field trips, guiding laboratory sessions, answering questions in discussion sections, holding office hours to help students with their design projects and homework, grading homework, and lecturing select topics. When encountered with questions on lecture material or homework assignments, I like to challenge the students to view material from a fundamental standpoint. For instance, when asked how biological oxygen demand changes for differing temperatures, I directed a student towards the Arrhenius equation in chemistry. This reminded the student that most reactions proceed faster with increasing temperatures. In this way, the student was able to evaluate her own calculations of reaction rate constants to determine whether they were sensible or not, and linked the biological problem that she was solving to a fundamental chemical principle. By guiding the student towards fundamental chemical concepts to solve biological problems, I tried to ingrain in the student the importance of looking at problems from other scientific angles and give the student another source for finding her own answers. This is an example of the second principle that defines my teaching philosophy: provide students with the ability to learn and discover on their own.

During my first semester as a teaching assistant, I learned that the large classes and limited supply of laboratory space and equipment meant that many students were forced to watch demonstrations in the laboratory instead of getting hands on experience. This left the students with a lack of understanding of the concepts we were trying to teach. I believe that hands-on learning is important to cementing concepts taught in class. During my second semester as a teaching assistant, I requested that the two-hour laboratory be divided into two one-hour sessions and that half the students from each session attend each hour. In this way, all students obtain hands on experience in every laboratory and display greater enthusiasm towards the laboratory sessions.

As a future educator in an institution that prides itself on having professors deliver all course lectures, I came to the realization early in my doctoral program that my teaching experience would be lacking if I did not become active in preparing myself for an academic role. I have taken great steps to ensure my teaching effectiveness by choosing an educational track that has provided me with experience and training in teaching. I have engaged myself in the preparing future faculty (PFF) program at Iowa State University, which aims to "better prepare graduate students and post-doctoral fellows for the demands of teaching, service, and research in faculty careers at a variety of higher education institutions." I have also chosen a research track and faculty that have allowed me to participate in guiding graduate students in their research. This participation has taken several forms including teaching graduate students about fundamentals of groundwater flow and solute transport for modeling, mentoring and tutoring students in research and coursework, training students in molecular microbiological methods to better understand the processes that underlie the outcomes of the engineered systems they are exploring, and helping two graduate students develop their research objectives.

As part of this teaching and mentoring experience, I have observed two interesting truths about graduate students (1) early graduate students typically find it difficult to adjust from an environment of directed exploration (classrooms) to an environment of creative exploration (developing and analyzing research), and (2) graduate students tend to have difficulty in applying fundamental concepts to analyze their research data until they have been trained to do so. This has left me with the realization that for my students to become successful practitioners and researchers; I must foster creative thinking skills. I believe this must be initiated early in classroom environments by shifting from traditional teaching styles towards active and student-centered learning (see Mary Huba and Jan Freed, Learner-Centered Assessment on College Campuses, Shifting the Focus from Teaching to Learning, Allyn & Bacon, Neadham Heights, MA, 2000). By teaching students early in their academic careers how to use the tools they acquire in their education to solve new and interesting problems, I will better prepare them not only for graduate research, but also for engineering jobs in which the problems are rarely as simple as the textbook presents.

Finally, I value an ethnically, culturally, demographically, and spiritually diverse classroom. I believe that a diverse classroom only enriches the learning experience and fosters student enlightenment. I believe a balance between educational, physical, and personal enlightenment is crucial to developing valuable members of our society. As part of my graduate experience I have been lucky to have the opportunity to mentor and work beside students from central and eastern Asia, Europe, Africa, the Middle East, and South America, and students of differing sex, gender, religious backgrounds, physical and mental disabilities, and class. I have also been blessed with the strength and ability to logically defend and stand behind my convictions against discrimination, and have done so in my life's journey. I strongly believe that it is my responsibility to promote a safe learning environment characterized by advocacy, mutual respect, and recognition of the students' rights and diversity in order to ensure a safe and positive learning environment.

My teaching philosophy continues to develop and change. I have learned to evaluate my teaching effectiveness not only through teaching evaluations, but also through other means. As I grow more accustomed to guiding students in their learning and I learn more about the tools students need to become life-long learners, I find that more students seek out my help. I find ultimate reward in students acknowledging me as a guide in their learning, and find myself seeking more of that reward. As I begin a career in academia, I acknowledge that I still have much to learn about teaching. Wherever this path leads me, I hope only to guide students well both mentally and spiritually and provide students with the tools necessary to find their own answers.