Wednesday, September 21, 2016

SAVE THE DATE - 4th Annual Caltech Teaching Conference -- Details Coming Soon!

Wednesday, July 13, 2016
Noyes 147 (J. Holmes Sturdivant Lecture Hall) – Arthur Amos Noyes Laboratory of Chemical Physics

Teaching Statement Workshop

Learning the Language of the Laboratory

In any of the leading research institutions, scientists and engineers from all over the world work together on joint research projects. Although basic scientific concepts and mathematical formulas are typically universally understood, field-specific terminology is not always the same in every language. Through her course, French Conversation (L175), Christiane Orcel, lecturer in French, tries to break down language barrier for students and postdocs who work and study abroad in French-speaking countries.

Orcel, who also teaches several other traditional French classes, came up with the idea for the course after hearing about Caltech students who were interested in studying abroad through the Institute's exchange program with École Polytechnique—one of France's elite schools near Paris—but were nervous about having to take courses exclusively in French.

"In general, a conversational French class focuses on food, sports, housing, family, transportation, et cetera. But these students wanted to become more comfortable in scientific French," Orcel says.

Although Orcel is not a scientist herself, she chose to teach the course much like a science class would be taught in a French-speaking country. Each meeting of L175 has a topical theme loosely based on the major study area of one of her students. For example, if a biology student is enrolled, she might focus one class session on genetics; if a physics major is in the class, the focus could be particle physics. For each subject area, she finds a speaker—a French-speaking scientist, usually from Caltech or JPL—to give a 30-minute presentation about his or her research in French, followed by questions from the students, also in French. Afterward, the students discuss a previously assigned science article from Pour la Science or CNRS le Journal (the equivalents to Scientific American), and review any unfamiliar vocabulary terms they encountered in their reading.

"The article I select for each class is related to the topic that the speaker will present that day, and it really helps the students prepare for some of the vocabulary they'll hear in the talk. The speakers come only for about 35 to 40 minutes, and after they leave we discuss the article to expand the conversation for the rest of the 90-minute class," she says.

Because she chooses the invited speakers based on their work's relevance to the students' majors, Orcel says the students themselves can also help to explain—in French—some of the more technical concepts from the article to their peers in different majors.

Over the years, Orcel says that she has experienced a steady level of interest in the course, with some students wanting to enroll more than once. To accommodate these students, she finds all new articles and all new speakers for each term that the course is taught. Senior mechanical engineering major Edward Fouad is now taking the course for the third time. "It's enjoyable to repeat the class because the speakers are always different and there is always more to learn," he says. "But I think the most enjoyable part of the class is giving a presentation on my own research to the class, which allows me to learn technical vocabulary related to my own field at a much higher level."

Although the course targets undergraduates who are planning to enroll in the École Polytechnique Scholars Program in the fall term of their senior year at Caltech, it is also open to graduate students enrolled in the Caltech dual master's degree program with École Polytechnique, SURF students who will be spending their summer doing research at CERN, as well as postdocs and other scientists who are simply wanting to prepare for research experiences abroad.

"Science and engineering are becoming increasingly multinational," agrees Fouad, "and it's important that researchers from different parts of the world are able to effectively communicate their ideas with one another."

The course was designed to help students with their French language skills, but Orcel says that some students have reported that its scientific content has had an impact on their academic and career plans. "The class is so small, usually 6 to 10 students, so it's really a great opportunity for networking and getting to know these Caltech and JPL scientists," she says. "It's also such a multidisciplinary course that it provides students with an opportunity to meet people and to be exposed to research topics that they wouldn't necessarily have considered before. I've even had some students say they wanted to continue learning more about a topic they first heard of in class, so they picked up a second major."

Because of the course's distinctive nature and success at Caltech, Orcel was asked to speak about it at a conference hosted last October by the American Physical Society in a session on education and new teaching techniques.

"I don't think there are any other courses like L175 in the United States, so at the conference, a lot of faculty members from other schools came up to me and expressed an interest in adding such a course to their curriculum, but they were concerned about the availability of teaching staff. And that's the problem," she says. "I understand that many language professors might feel uncomfortable teaching a course with so much technical content, but I enjoy it, and I hope that in the future others will try it out."

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Learning the Language of the Laboratory
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In a conversational French class at Caltech, scientists pick up technical vocabulary to prepare for research and educational experiences abroad.
Monday, May 23, 2016
Brown Gymnasium – Scott Brown Gymnasium

Animal magnetism

Monday, February 29, 2016
Brown Gymnasium – Scott Brown Gymnasium

Animal magnetism

Caltech Students and Alumni Receive 2016 NSF Graduate Research Fellowships

This year, the National Science Foundation (NSF) has selected 20 current Caltech students and 13 alumni to receive its Graduate Research Fellowships. The awards support three years of graduate study within a five-year fellowship period in research-based master's or doctoral programs in science or engineering.

The NSF notes that the Graduate Research Fellowship Program (GRFP) "is a critical program in NSF's overall strategy to develop the globally-engaged workforce necessary to ensure the nation's leadership in advancing science and engineering research and innovation." The selection criteria used to identify NSF fellows reflect the potential of the applicant to advance knowledge and benefit society.

Caltech's awardees for 2016 are seniors Kurtis Mickel Carsch, Webster Guan, Soumya Kannan, Emil Timergalievich Khabiboullin, Laura Shou, and Karthik Guruswamy Siva; and graduate students Hannah Marie Allen, Charles H. Arnett, Sarah Michelle Cohen, Heidi Klumpe, Rachel Ann Krueger, Usha Farey Lingappa, Joseph P. Messinger, Andres Ortiz-Munoz, Shyam M. Saladi, Lee Michael Saper, Nancy Helen Thomas, Annelise Christine Thompson, Elise M. Tookmanian, and Jeremy Chi-Pang Tran. The graduate student awardees join 136 current NSF fellows enrolled at Caltech, representing approximately 20 percent of the domestic graduate student population.

Caltech alumni in the 2016 class of Graduate Fellows are: Sidney Douglas Buchbinder, Kaitlin Ching, Katherine Jennie Fisher, Emmett Daniel Goodman, Edward W. Huang, Jacqueline Maslyn, Misha Raffiee, Connor Edwin Rosen, Nicole Nisha Thadani, Malvika Verma, Eugene Aaron Vinitsky, Yushu Joy Xie, and Doris Xin.

In total this year, the NSF selected 2,000 GRFP recipients from a pool of nearly 17,000 applicants. Caltech's Fellowships Advising & Study Abroad Office works with current students and recent Caltech graduates interested in applying for an NSF fellowship, sponsoring a panel discussion of previous winners each fall and offering one-on-one advising.

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NSF Awards Graduate Research Fellowships
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20 current Caltech students and 13 alumni will receive fellowships to support graduate study.
Tuesday, April 12, 2016
Center for Student Services 360 (Workshop Space) – Center for Student Services

TA Workshop: Getting the Biggest ‘Bang for Your Buck’ - Teaching strategies for busy TAs

Living—and Giving—the Caltech Dream

Growing up in Tehran, Iran, Mory Gharib (PhD '83) attended large, crowded schools. He was the kid who always raised his hand in class and asked tough questions. He craved one-on-one time with his teachers, which seldom came to pass.

So when the young Gharib read a newspaper article about a school in California with a three-to-one student-faculty ratio, it seemed almost unimaginable. Over the years, though, that school—Caltech—remained in his thoughts.

Years later, Gharib finally made it to Caltech as a graduate student. Since that time, he has built a distinguished career as a  researcher, mentor, inventor, entrepreneur, leader, and benefactor. And he has continued to search for the answers to tough questions.

"I couldn't have done this anywhere else," he says, referring to his career. "Caltech took care of me, and I have to take care of it."

In appreciation for the opportunities Caltech afforded him, Gharib—who currently serves as the Hans W. Liepmann Professor of Aeronautics and Bioinspired Engineering, director of Caltech's Graduate Aerospace Laboratories, and vice provost—has created an endowed fellowship fund to support new generations of Caltech graduate students.

Read the full story on the Caltech Giving website.

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Living—and Giving—the Caltech Dream
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In appreciation for the opportunities Caltech afforded him, Mory Gharib is supporting future graduate students through an endowed fellowship fund.
Monday, March 28, 2016 to Friday, April 15, 2016
Center for Student Services 360 (Workshop Space) – Center for Student Services

Spring TA Training -- 2016

Rothenberg Wins Feynman Prize

The 2016 Richard P. Feynman Prize for Excellence in Teaching has been awarded to Ellen Rothenberg, the Albert Billings Ruddock Professor of Biology.

Established in 1993, the Feynman Prize annually honors "a professor who demonstrates, in the broadest sense, unusual ability, creativity, and innovation in undergraduate and graduate classroom or laboratory teaching." Rothenberg, who has been at Caltech since joining the faculty as an assistant professor in 1982, was nominated for the prize by her students, who cited qualities such as her passion for teaching and her engagement with students as the reason for their nominations.

Rothenberg investigates the regulatory mechanisms that control blood stem cell differentiation and the development of T lymphocytes—white blood cells that play an important role in immunity. Not surprisingly, when she began at Caltech, her first teaching assignment was Immunology (Bi 114), a course that she continued to teach for 25 years, consistently receiving high ratings from her students in her teaching-quality feedback reports. In 1989, Rothenberg also introduced Caltech's first course on the molecular biology of blood development, Hematopoiesis: A Developmental System (Bi 214)—a course that she still teaches every other year.

Rothenberg recently was instrumental to changes made to the introductory biology courses at Caltech. "I was the chair of the Curriculum Committee, and I noticed that there were issues that arose for both students and faculty with the first two introductory courses," she says. Beginning in 2008, she began redeveloping and teaching these introductory courses, Cell Biology (Bi 9) and then molecular biology (Bi 8). A student's first two terms at Caltech are mandatory pass/fail, "and we discovered that the students are actually really excited to do something hard when it's on a pass/fail basis," she explains.

In a letter of nomination, one of Rothenberg's students said that she appreciated the challenge to learn more complicated material in an introductory course. "In her course, Professor Rothenberg emphasizes important concepts about molecular biology; however, she also takes time to explore higher-level concepts with incredible enthusiasm," the student said. "This introduced me to the many complex systems I could learn about while showing me how exciting biological research is. I also sit on the Curriculum Committee, which she leads, and I have seen how she constantly returns to the idea of what will help students learn best and what will train them effectively."

Another student who nominated Rothenberg wrote that "… she showed students that, contrary to what they might have heard, biology was not simply a 'memorization game,' but rather a logic puzzle. By slowly introducing us to different research techniques, she allowed us to see how we could pose and answer questions in biology ourselves."

In addition to challenging her students to learn in a new way, Rothenberg says that these introductory courses also challenged her to teach differently. Because introductory courses have larger class sizes, she says it was inherently more difficult to get to know her students. So, she found ways to connect with her students outside of class time. "She spends a lot of time with her students," one student said in a nomination, "even actively participating in recitation sections with her TAs, an unusual task for professors. She strives to improve her class every year."

Previously, Rothenberg was awarded the Biology Undergraduate Students Advisory Council Award for excellence in teaching four times, the Ferguson Prize for Undergraduate Teaching twice, and the ASCIT Award for Undergraduate Teaching twice. In addition, she has chaired the divisional Curriculum Committee for the past several years, working to rationalize the biology curriculum and to put the best teachers in place for each course. As part of her work on the Curriculum Committee, she interacts closely with the Biology Undergraduate Students Advisory Council.

"Winning this award and being recognized at an institutional level…it means a lot to me. And I'm also really humbled that I'm the first biologist ever to get the Feynman Prize," she says. "I love teaching. The greatest gift you can give someone is to share your understanding with them and to help them develop their own understanding. That incredible connection between the way you appreciate the complexity of the world and the way you can give students the tools to see things that you never saw before—it's really beautiful. And the fact that this institute has a way of valuing that is really wonderful," she adds.

The Feynman Prize has been endowed through the generosity of Caltech Associates Ione and Robert E. Paradise and an anonymous local couple. Some of the most recent winners of the Feynman Prize include Kevin Gilmartin, professor of English; Steven Frautschi, professor of theoretical physics, emeritus; and Paul Asimow, professor of geology and geochemistry.

Nominations for next year's Feynman Prize for Excellence in Teaching will be solicited in the fall. Further information about the prize can be found on the Provost's Office website.

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The 2016 Richard Feynman Prize for Excellence in Teaching has been awarded to Ellen Rothenberg, the Albert Billings Ruddock Professor of Biology.

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