November 24, 2021

Meet A Few Of Our Rockstar Teaching Assistants

Teaching assistants (TAs) are the backbone of the MCIT Online program. Whether leading recitations, mentoring student groups, or teaching key skills, these peer leaders serve a critical role as student advocates, problem solvers, and cheerleaders.

Most of the TAs for MCIT Online are students in the program, while some are enrolled in other programs at Penn. Each semester, the dedication and hard work of the teaching assistants are recognized with a select few receiving Outstanding TA Awards. 

Three of the winners of the Outstanding TA Awards share their insight about the choice to become a TA and their time in the role.

Chelsie Xu is a Computer and Information Science graduate student and a TA for CIS 550 Database & Information Systems. This course covers topics such as data modeling, logical foundations, popular languages and system implementations.

“I wanted to be a TA because I am very interested in the course materials,” says Xu, who won the Award for Excellence in Leadership in spring 2021. “Moreover, I personally benefited a lot from going to office hours and getting help from my TAs, so I wanted to give back by becoming a TA myself.”

For Xu, the best part of being a TA is helping students understand complicated ideas. “It’s always rewarding to guide students through different concepts and see their eyes light up when they reach that moment of “I got it!” she says. “It also helps me to gain a more solid understanding of the materials by walking students through details of the concepts.”

Katie Pizziketti, an MCIT Online graduate, works with students in CIT 593 Introduction to Computer Systems, one of the core courses in the program (and one of her personal favorites).

“Learning is an emotional experience,” Pizziketti says. “Responding to students with kindness and generosity — listening to and validating their fears and concerns — is crucial to keeping a student engaged.”

Pizziketti, who sees herself as a cheerleader, problem solver, student advocate and teacher of debugging skills, won the Outstanding TA Award for Excellence in Student Support with Distinction in summer 2020.

Her advice to new TAs is straightforward: “If possible, speak up about things you found difficult whenever an opportunity presents itself; students are encouraged by hearing that TAs used to struggle with the same concepts they are learning.”

Diane Hoffstetter, Learning Experience Engineer - Penn Engineering Online

Diane Hoffstetter also works with students in CIT 593 Introduction to Computer Systems. A current student in the MCIT Online program, she won the Outstanding TA Award for Excellence in Student Support in fall 2020.

“The idea of becoming a TA can be a little intimidating,” Hoffstetter says. “You may feel that you don’t know the material well enough to help another student. But it’s OK to ask for help from the professor or the other TAs. This is how you learn the material better.” 

For Hoffstetter, joining the TA team meant an opportunity to make connections with faculty members and peers. It’s also a chance to help her fellow students.“It is very rewarding when you can help another student get through a tough concept or coding assignment,” she says. “When they are grateful, it really makes your day.”