Two receive Cornelia Ye Outstanding TA Award

Doctoral students Renee Sifri and Anna Srapionyan have been honored with the 2018-19 Cornelia Ye Outstanding Teaching Assistant Award.

Cornelia Ye Award winners for 2018-19 Renee Sifri, left, and Anna Srapionyan.

The Center for Teaching Innovation (CTI) honored the awardees at an informal gathering May 1. Sifri and Srapionyan will be formally recognized in October at the University-wide GET SET Teaching Conference.

“The theme in the applications for both Renee and Anna, from their students and from the faculty who wrote letters, is that they’re the best,” said Kim Kenyon, associate director of CTI. “They’re the best teachers, the best teaching assistants their students and faculty have ever had.”

Sifri hails from Mission Hills, California, and is studying chemistry. She has been a TA in numerous courses, and she works to create a learning environment where students feel comfortable expressing their insecurities and asking questions about the course content. This is especially important in gateway courses she’s assisted, such as General Chemistry and Organic Chemistry, which students often find intimidating.

Known for going out of her way to help students, Sifri makes a point of reaching out to them when she first sees them struggling, inside or outside the classroom. “I was in their shoes at one point,” she said, “and these classes are what made me fall in love with chemistry. I hope I can make them fall in love with chemistry, too.” 

Srapionyan, from Armenia, is completing her doctorate in applied mathematics this year. She has been a TA and an instructor for undergraduate and graduate courses as well as a TA trainer in the College of Engineering’s Engineering Learning Initiatives. She fosters open dialogue and discussion in her classes and uses active learning strategies to make what are often abstract concepts more engaging and applicable for her students.

She said all the effort she puts into teaching is worth it for what she gets in return.

“Teaching gives me so much energy to spend on my research and on my classes because I’m so motivated and inspired by the students,” she said. “I’ve learned a lot about people in general and about myself.”

Mao Ye, Ph.D. ’11, established the Cornelia Ye Award in 2012 in honor of then-President David Skorton’s commitment to teaching. Ye named his daughter Cornelia, after Cornell, and the award after his daughter.

Each year, the award is given to two outstanding TAs – one domestic, one international – who have clearly demonstrated dedication and excellence in their teaching responsibilities. The award includes a certificate and $500.

This year’s Ye Award selection committee included Kimberly O’Brien, professor of nutritional sciences; Anna Poduska, associate director of Engineering Learning Initiatives; Sarah Cohn-Manik ’19 from the College of Arts and Sciences; Sonia Appasamy ’19 from Computing and Information Science; and Nick Mason, Ph.D. ’17, a postdoctoral researcher at the Museum of Vertebrate Zoology at the University of California, Berkeley, and a 2014 Cornelia Ye Award recipient.

Caitlin Hayes is a communications specialist for the Center for Teaching Innovation.

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Gillian Smith