Introducing the 2021–2022 Graduate Student CSEF Committee Representatives
Crucial to the mission of the Center for Skills and Experience Flags (CSEF) are its five flag committees, each charged with interpreting the criteria for their respective flag(s), approving courses to carry flags, and advising CSEF on assessment and faculty development. The committees consist primarily of faculty with expertise related to the flag area, representing the various colleges and schools that offer undergraduate degrees, and each committee also includes an undergraduate student representative.
We are excited to announce our very first cohort of graduate representatives to these committees: they will serve as liaisons with graduate student instructors across campus, helping to inform them about the flags and their purpose, and will represent the views of graduate student instructors in conversations about the flags. We believe this perspective will be an important addition to committee discussions.
We have conducted short interviews with each of our new graduate representatives to highlight their academic pursuits, their experience with teaching flagged courses, and how they see their flags within the broader scope of a UT Austin undergraduate education.
Ethics Flag committee representative Kristen C. Mosley (Ph.D. candidate, Educational Psychology, College of Education) focuses her research on teacher stress and coping, workplace conditions, and retention — all with special consideration for ways of supporting beginning teachers in PK-12. She views the Ethics Flag as one of the more critical ways in which we can develop informed, active citizens in the next generation. “Ethics teaches students about the interconnectedness of all of our lives and decisions, ultimately strengthening their empathy and reasoning muscles. Such skills develop open-minded, forward-thinking scholars and citizens.”
Mosley also feels that the explicit approach to ethics material in flagged courses helps to develop students’ comfort with this abstract subject in a targeted manner. “With my background of working in an elementary school, I appreciate the power of a primer, and successful courses carrying flags function in this way. The rigor with which courses must incorporate their flags thus aims to make explicit the common language and goals necessary to develop knowledge and experience in a given flag.”
She has served as a teaching assistant for the course Engineering Communication, which carries Writing, Independent Inquiry, and Ethics Flags; in her six semesters in the role, Mosley has witnessed students tackle complex issues directly related to their fields within a safe, low-risk environment.
“This experience has shaped my own sense of pedagogy in solidifying the importance of providing students with at-bats during their time as undergraduates. Difficult topics and conversations within the cocoon of the classroom build a student’s voice, giving them the confidence they’ll need to confront injustices and ethical dilemmas in our world.”
Known by most people as RAZ, Rebecca A. Zarate (Ph.D. candidate, Quantitative Methods, College of Education & Dell Medical School) serves on the Quantitative Reasoning Flag Committee. At Dell Medical School, her research investigates the relationship between asthma-related emergency department visits in Travis county and demographic variables, such as socioeconomic status and race/ethnicity. Zarate is also interested in meta-analysis, autism, and fidgeting. She believes that flagged courses are important because they require application of course topics, which encourages students to take a more active role in the educational experience.
“In the QR Flag course that I teach, Statistical Literacy, I focus on statistics in the real world by bringing in current, relevant examples and incorporating assessments that require the student to communicate a statistical topic to a friend, rather than fixating on memorizing equations or long hand calculations. These skills can be carried forward in life, such as being able to evaluate media headlines critically, which is an important aspect of being a good scholar and citizen.”
By this summer Zarate will have taught seven sections of Statistical Literacy — and even though she has over 10 years of teaching experience, this is the first time she has been able to teach the same course back-to-back. To create the real-world applications that characterize QR flagged courses, she asks students to pick a statistical concept — like variation or confidence intervals — and explain it to someone in layman terms. Zarate also views this as a particularly good task in the pandemic environment.
“This assignment serves to help them understand the topic by articulating it out loud with less jargon to another person, encourages them to reach out and engage with people (safely!) during these isolating COVID times, and teaches an outsider about statistics and how it is relevant to everyone.”
She has taken an active role in producing her own material while teaching remotely, often investing her own funds for high-quality streaming equipment to make sure her students have the best possible experience. Zarate has also completed dozens of videos for a fully online course, which can be seen on her YouTube channel.
“Many students who take my course are taking it because it is the ‘easier’ QR Flag class — the least ‘mathy.’ They are more likely to be humanities and liberal arts majors, and they just want to get it over with. Many have it in their mind that they are not good at math and statistics is hard. I have an extra special place in my heart for these students. I want to show them they are wrong by showing them they can be right. They can learn this. They can do this. And they will be all the more empowered because of it.”
Writing Flag graduate representative Cody D. Jarman (Ph.D. candidate, English, College of Liberal Arts) researches global modernism, with a special interest in cultural revivalism. His dissertation considers the impact of racialization on revivalist movements by comparing the Harlem Renaissance and the Irish Literary Revival. He views the Writing Flag as essential to students with any major.
“Writing is a fundamental skill. Being able to read carefully and communicate clearly is essential to one’s success in every college course, whether or not it carries a flag. The Writing Flag courses also encourage extended engagement with one’s writing through the required revision component; this involves questioning and defending your own decisions and thinking critically about what is essential to making your point. These practices lead to good scholarship and honest argumentation.”
Jarman has taught two Writing Flag courses in past semesters, and the course he is currently teaching also carries the Cultural Diversity Flag. While reflecting on what sets Writing Flag courses apart from unflagged courses with writing projects, he explains how important personalized feedback is to student success.
“Even an ungraded assignment with personalized feedback could impact a student’s work later in the semester dramatically. This has led me to reflect a lot on what kinds of feedback to build into a course, as well as to think carefully about the substance of my written comments on student work.”
He believes CSEF has a complicated responsibility in managing flags — to assure that students studying in many different departments can acquire the same skills. This requires special focus not just on course content and deliverables, but on pedagogy.
“In the case of the Writing Flag in particular, exploring the writing process is the primary goal, so it is key that instructors teach in a way that centers writing as a process rather than focusing exclusively on finished writing as a product.”
Jarman also sees the Writing Flag as one of the most flexible in terms of course creation. “I could imagine a course on nearly any topic being designed to meet the Writing Flag requirements,” he says. “I think writing courses that focus on the different definitions of good writing depending on genre, discipline, or cultural background are particularly exciting though, so, perhaps some kind of comparative Writing Flag course would be interesting.”
Kaitlyn Farrell Rodriguez (PhD candidate, English, College of Liberal Arts) serves on the committee that oversees both the Cultural Diversity in the United States and Global Cultures Flags. Her own academic interests lie in modern drama, performance studies, and feminist theater with a focus on early-20th century American drama. Currently, Farrell Rodriguez is researching presentations of women’s reproductive agency and anxiety on stage in relation to major sociopolitical events. She sees courses that carry the Cultural Diversity and Global Cultures Flags as essential opportunities for students to develop the empathy and communication skills necessary to be ethical scholars and citizens.
“These courses provide us with access to information about the histories and lived experiences of other individuals, and ask us to reflect on our own positionalities and biases which may be hindering our ability to acknowledge and then dismantle white supremacy and other systemic barriers. We are living at a crucial turning point in our country’s history, and it’s our responsibility to collectively educate ourselves so that we can become advocates for the equity and equality that we have always ideologically craved as a nation. In classrooms, we are able to grow by listening, and learning to apologize and make amends when we make mistakes.”
Farrell Rodriguez also envisions new ways to prepare and encourage faculty that may have considered teaching either a Cultural Diversity or Global Cultures Flag.
“I would like to see a comprehensive anti-racist pedagogy course offered for all instructors, whether they are faculty members, staff, or graduate instructors. Though this course would not carry a Culture Diversity or Global Cultures Flag itself, it would equip instructors with the resources, community, and confidence they need to teach courses that carry the CD and GC Flags responsibly. As instructors, we have an ethical duty to the students we teach to continue our training, and I think that our priority should be to collectively focus on anti-racist pedagogy at this time.”
Her experiences as both a teaching assistant and instructor of record for Writing and Global Cultures Flags — as well as a graduate teaching consultant at UT’s Faculty Innovation Center — have framed Farrell Rodriguez’s approach to course design and student engagement: “I assign more frequent, shorter, and lower-stakes papers throughout the semester so that students receive consistent formative feedback and have opportunities to revise. This model has helped my students feel more confident in writing as a process that involves multiple stages of drafting, revising, and, whenever possible, collaboration through peer review.”
Independent Inquiry Flag graduate student representative Emily Lessig (Ph.D. candidate, Integrative Biology’s Ecology, Evolution, and Behavior, College of Natural Sciences) works in the Hofmann lab to study social cognition in African cichlid fish. Her research takes an integrative approach to examine how fish can respond to social information behaviorally and neurologically.
Lessig explains that, “An important part of being a good scholar is being able to think independently and present work to others; this often demonstrates true mastery of a given topic.“ Courses across all disciplines can carry the Independent Inquiry Flag, so she believes it is important to determine what criteria are critical for this flag in the broadest sense.
“In order for these courses to be successful in promoting independent inquiry, there are many factors that need to be considered and criteria that need to be met. For example: independent inquiry should be considered the culmination of a semester’s work rather than just one exercise.”
Lessig has served as TA for Principles of Animal Behavior, which is both an Experiential Learning Initiative course and an Independent Inquiry Flag course. Working on this course encouraged her to serve as a graduate representative for CSEF and be more involved in the flagged courses on campus.
“A large portion of the course was dedicated to students designing and conducting their own research projects, writing them up into papers, and giving presentations on them. It was great to see students applying what they had learned in lecture — as well as previous biology courses — to their research projects; they took so much pride in the end results. This is something that I really love about the Independent Inquiry Flag: because students are coming up with the ideas themselves, they have fun and put great effort into their work.”
You can learn more about the criteria for flags, as well as the process of incorporating flags into an existing course, on the Center for Skills and Experience Flags website.