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Graduate Student Spotlight: Ryan Gesme

Ph.D. Student, Department of History

Before starting my Ph.D. in history at the University of Tennessee, I earned my Bachelor of Arts in History at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Growing up in the multicultural city of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, with the influence of multiple generations of immigrants on its cultural and physical landscape, inspired me to pursue a career in history.

As an undergraduate, one of my teaching assistants at the University of Wisconsin cultivated my career interests and directed me to investigate the University of Tennessee for graduate school— as they thought it would be an excellent fit for my research interests in European borderlands.

After beginning my Ph.D. in 2015, I had the opportunity to work as a teaching assistant and lecturer for the department of history. It was my first experience with in-classroom instruction as well as my first exposure to the wonderful benefits of teaching. I felt, however, that there was more to learn outside the classroom; so, to help me improve my teaching methods and skills, I started to participate in multiple pedagogical workshops offered by Teaching and Learning Innovation and the Online Learning and Academic Programs.

As a teaching assistant and lecturer, I was drawn to the flexibility of instruction and the expertise of OLAP and TLI, but these weren’t the only benefits of these courses. The Introduction to Online Teaching for Graduate Students and Evolving Practices in Teaching Workshops allowed me to reconsider my teaching styles, and incorporate various innovative teaching methods to ensure my instruction reached the broadest possible audience. This was important to me because, as the COVID-19 Pandemic has shown, technology and education are more closely intertwined than ever before. That’s why I was so excited by the opportunity to design an asynchronous online course with the experts of OLAP. Their guidance helped me master numerous, versatile ways that technology can work to both supplement, and even replicate, a classroom experience in an online setting. My newfound teaching philosophy was also further developed by the Evolving Practice in Teaching Workshop led by Dr. Ernest Brothers. Here, we were all encouraged to consider how teaching is always an evolutionary process where one constantly tries to improve one’s skills, which I found to be very insightful.

In short, my experience with TLI and OLAP workshops have done nothing short of providing me with the practical foundations, tools, and skills that are necessary as a graduate student to become a refined educator: from developing effective language for my syllabus, to the curation of my personal teaching philosophy, as well as my teaching portfolio. I have already witnessed the positive impact these courses have had in the classroom, as after providing more opportunities for student feedback and employing different teaching methods, I was thrilled to see the overwhelmingly positive response from my students in their evaluations of my course. To hear from students that they were not only learning and processing the materials of my course, but also feeling comfortable enough to express their opinions and feel welcomed in the classroom environment that I created has been very gratifying as it reflects one of my central goals.

I feel so fortunate to have classroom experiences that have been so rewarding in developing my skills as an educator, and I owe so much of that gratification to the multiple opportunities offered by TLI and OLAP. I look forward to continuing to improve my skills as an educator as I enter the workforce after successfully defending my dissertation this past March, and I strongly encourage all graduate students to utilize these workshops offered by TLI and OLAP. They provide invaluable insight into becoming the best educator you can be.