A dedicated teaching assistant and researcher in the sociology Ph.D. program, Paige Gabriel signed on to assist Dr. Sheldon Ekland-Olson in the “Life and Death Decisions” Signature Course.
“I requested “Life and Death Decisions” for a couple semesters before being assigned there,” Gabriel wrote in her reflection essay. “The professor, Dr. Ekland-Olson, in addition to doing really interesting research, is known for his teaching abilities. I wanted to see how he teaches his classes, how he gets the students to engage with the material, and how he makes a difficult topic like “Life and Death Decisions” approachable to students.”
Gabriel’s thoughtful essay on her experience as a TA earned her the 2014 Signature Course Interdisciplinary Teaching Award.
Every undergraduate at UT takes a Signature Course during his or her first year on campus. These interdisciplinary courses help students transition to college-level academics.
Patty Micks, senior program coordinator for the Signature Course program, said, “My hope for the graduate students serving as Signature Course TAs is that they will grow as teachers and learn about themselves and their disciplines in ways they hadn’t before.”
Gabriel led three discussion sections each week to develop students’ critical thinking skills and confidence in discussing their ideas in small groups.
“The course topic covered some emotionally difficult topics, like assisted suicide, capital punishment, abortion, genocide, and torture,” Gabriel wrote. “In my past experience, I had not had to do this much work helping students with emotional reactions to material. The course challenged me to create lesson plans that let students work through their emotional reactions to the material in a way that was academically productive.”
As Gabriel incorporated the mid-semester feedback required for all Signature Course TAs, she worked to modify her approach to meet students’ needs. She gained support from Sanger Learning Center staff, who provide weekly meetings for Signature Course TAs where they learn about new teaching strategies and share experiences in the classroom.
“Paige is a gifted instructor and able to transform her discussion sections into collegial and dynamic learning experiences that her students will remember long after leaving UT,” said Eric Busch, a learning specialist in the Sanger Learning Center and lecturer in the Department of History. “Without Paige and the many other dedicated TAs like her, programs like the UGS Signature Courses would not be possible on this campus.”
Gabriel earned her master’s degree in sociology from the University of Texas at Arlington and her bachelor’s degree in anthropology from the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. Gabriel’s research interests are gender, work, and family. At UT Arlington, her project focused on violence in heterosexual couples where the woman is the primary breadwinner. She has presented this project at the American Sociological Association’s Annual Meeting as well as several university-level conferences and symposiums. Her current project looks at the career outcomes of women whose partners or spouses contribute significantly to housework and childcare.
Signature Courses (UGS 302 and 303) introduce students to the university’s academic community, helping them explore new interests and broaden horizons. The Signature Courses give students the skills to engage in college-level thinking and learning. Classes range from the arts and humanities to the hard sciences, but every class shares unique components that will help students through college and beyond.