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Partnership for Enhancing Teaching and Leadership Skills in Science

Program Objective:

I implemented this program at Arizona State University during the spring 2020 semester after finding that many of my undergraduate teaching assistant (UTAs) returned to work with me each semester.  I wanted to be able to provide them with an opportunity to grow as educators through a structured and guided program. The Partnership for Enhancing Teaching and Leadership in Science (PETALS) program is designed to provide undergraduate teaching assistants with the ability to practice and gain communication and teaching skills in addition to the potential to gain project management and supervisory skills. The program provides the opportunity for UTAs to advance via promotion based on merit reviews.

Program Levels and Descriptions:

  1. Undergraduate teaching assistant: first-year undergraduate teaching assistants
    • Learn teaching techniques and pedagogy relevant to the class
    • Evaluate UTA experience at the end of the semester

    • Submit a mid-semester and end-of-semester reflection

    • Attend a minimum of 3 workshop/training activities per year

    • Facilitate in-class discussions and answer student questions

    • Proctor exams

    • Attend weekly team meeting

    • Assist with the preparation of course materials

    • Develop skills needed for teaching in an active learning classroom

    • Learn course material and activities

    • Learn basic course policies

  2. ​​Senior undergraduate teaching assistant: second-year undergraduate teaching assistants are eligible

    • Additional teaching responsibilities

      • Train and mentor undergraduate teaching assistants

      • Hold two office hours per week

    • Management:

      • Serve as a project manager for special projects

        1. Break down projects into manageable pieces

        2. Delegate project tasks

        3. Supervise other undergraduate TAs to ensure completion of project goals

    • Integrating New TAs:

      • Training of new UTAs (Head UTA helps with this also)

      • Help foster a sense of community among instructional team

  3. Head undergraduate teaching assistant: third-year undergraduate teaching assistants are eligible to apply for this position

    • Additional teaching responsibilities

      • Hold one exam review session prior to each exam.

      • Organize monthly chats with the UTAs to allow students to ask career-based questions.

      • Guest lecture once during the semester or lead at least one science chat.

      • Communicates directly with the instructor regarding any issues that other undergraduate teaching assistants have noticed in the class.

    • Management

      • Supervise UTAs (assure policies adherence and everyone is pulling their load)

      • Assist in the UTA selection process: interviewing and selection decisions

      • Assist with promotion decisions and writing/delivering Sr. UTA toasts

      • Taking on a little extra (when work cannot be divided equally)

      • Random work checks only if needed, but discuss with instructor first. This is only done if there is reason to suspect that someone is not doing their part, and a gentle reminder of priorities to all UTAs does not correct the issue. Always assume the best and do not act confrontationally. The goal is to motivate, not offend.  

      • Identify UTAs’ strengths/weaknesses.  Assist instructor on giving them a chance to contribute with strengths, grow with weaknesses

      • Bi-weekly meeting with instructor

    • Integrating New TAs

      • Send welcome e-mail to new UTAs

      • Assist in organizing and hosting UTA orientation 

      • Training of new UTAs (Senior UTAs help with this also)

      • Checking in with UTAs over their 1st semester (~quarterly during their office hours or over coffee)

      • Once in a while, visiting Sr. UTAs you never work with directly during office hours to help them feel integrated

      • Help foster a sense of community among instructional team



  1. Undergraduate teaching assistant

    • Previously completed both Bio 281/282

    • Demonstrate high reliability (as evidenced by references)

    • Demonstrate strong understanding and grasp of biological material 

      • Must have an overall gpa of 3.5 or higher

      • Must have a major gpa of 3.5 or higher

    • Demonstrate strong social skills (as evidenced by references and interview)

  2. Senior undergraduate teaching assistant: Many of our UTAs will be promoted to the status of Senior UTAs during their tenure with in the program.  Especially considering the selective nature of our UTAs, Senior UTAs are superstars! This promotion evidences not only exceptional work, but also a dedication to the position that has resulted in the knowledge needed to be an excellent mentor of new UTAs.  These are the additional qualities required to be promoted to Senior UTA: 

    • At least one year of experience 

    • High reliability (as evidenced during tenure on the staff, and stepping in for other TAs whenever possible)

    • Highly equitable (record of always doing his/her share)

    • High conscientiousness (record of careful, thorough work)

    • Highly compassionate (shows compassion for students, but not a push-over)

    • High accountability (admits to own mistakes and cleans up own messes)

    • Setting an excellent example for other TAs (reliability, workload, attitude, policy adherence, professionalism)

    • Knowledgeable (mastered many facets of the work, now trusted with training and mentorship of new UTAs)

  3. Head undergraduate teaching assistant: We do not always have a Head UTA. The Head UTA is not determined by years of experience, but rather, is selected as the best qualified. These are the additional qualities we seek in a Head UTA.

    •  High conscientiousness (eye of an eagle: rarely misses anything)

    • Highly compassionate (shows compassion for others, but not a push-over)

    • Equitable (always attempting to do more than his/her share

    • High reliability (record of going above and beyond to help and support other UTAs)

    • Problem solver (creative problem solver, helps to prevent problems)

    • Highly observant (identifies unique strengths of UTAs and uses/helps develop them)

    • Sacrificing (willing to sacrifice extra time/effort in the rare case of an emergency)

    • Highly accountable (admits to mistakes, cleans up own messes & learns from them, shares credit for successes)

    • Highly knowledgeable (mastered virtually all facets of the work, a record of exceptional training/ment

    • The potential to be an excellent democratic leader

PETALS Logo maroon gold 2.png

Workshops and training for undergraduates

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