Plate with a small amount of food

Written by Nancy Vargas

In the public health courses I have taught, we often talk about food insecurity and stress. In a reflective exercise, I had students write about their current stressors. Many students living on campus wrote about their food insecurity and the stress that came with it. Students living at home frequently skipped meals while on campus and waited until they got home to eat. Students living on campus typically had a limited meal plan and could not afford to buy additional meals. While I had struggled with food insecurity as an undergrad, I thought I was one the few that was affected by this issue. I realized I lacked knowledge about college student demographics and the resources I could provide for them.

Is food Insecurity Among College Undergrads an Issue? How Does It Affect Learning?

According to the most recent nationwide survey conducted by the Wisconsin HOPE LAB, 36% of college students are food insecure. Of those students that qualify for public food assistance, 80% do not receive benefits. Students might not be receiving assistance due to poor resources, lack of knowledge about where to receive assistance, or the stigma associated with receiving assistance. Having this unmet basic need is associated with negative academic outcomes such as lower grades and a lower chance of graduating. Students cannot focus on their studies if they are hungry. Graduate Teaching Assistants (GTAs) need to be aware of these statistics in order to realize that it is an issue on campus that affects student learning. GTAs need to intervene in order to facilitate student success.

How can a GTA help Address the Issue?

  1. Add a “Basic Needs” statement on your syllabus
    This statement provides a resource on campus where students can go if they are experience food insecurity or lack other basic needs. The Human Services Resource Center (HRSC) is a great place for students to start and the center also provides several basic needs statements on its website that you can use, including a version for Ecampus instructors who may have students from outside of the Corvallis area.
  2. First Day of Class Resources Scavenger Hunt
    On the first day of class you could have your students break into teams and be part of a scavenger hunt. As part of this scavenger hunt, they have to visit various on campus resources that can facilitate student success such as the HSRC, the cultural centers, the health center, writing center, etc. Not only does this make students more familiar with resources, it can create bonds between students.
  3. Take a tour or have your class take a tour the HSRC
    If you take a tour of the HSRC, you could describe all the integral components of the center first hand. Since my class discussed food insecurity, I included a tour of the HSRC in my course schedule. Many students said it was their first time visiting the HSRC even though they knew they were in need and could utilize the recourses. As part of the tour, they walked through the pantry and walked through multiple processes. After class, many of the students stayed behind to find out more information or have a discussion with peers in a similar situation. Students also said they referred many of their friends to the center and plan to utilize it in the near future.
  4. Reduce stigma by sharing your struggles
    I think the biggest barrier is the stigma surrounding seeking resources. When discussing this issue, I highlight the food insecurity I faced growing up and in college and how there were years that my family was doing well and some years that we were not. Even if we are food secure now, there are other structural forces that can affect our food security tomorrow. I encourage all of you to be vulnerable by sharing your struggles and I guarantee you will connect more with your students and help them seek the resources they need to succeed in school.

Photo by Markus Spiske from Pexels

Rock climbing

Photo by College Outdoors on Flickr

Guest post by Timothy Michael Ottusch, Graduate Teaching Assistant and Ph.D. student in the Human Development and Family Studies program.

This summer, I’ll once again be teaching applied research methods. For the first time in my teaching career, I’m teaching the same face-to-face class for the second time.

As I work on revising the course, I reviewed my lectures from last time. Looking through my slides, I realized how much I abandoned my teaching philosophy and ignored proven teaching methods. Countless things made me cringe, but one thing that stood out is how I started each class. I failed to build anticipation or get the students mental wheels churning. I forgot to connect the current lecture to and sometimes even jumped right into the subject matter without taking the time to give them the big picture.

Time for some help

Nilson (2010), in her book Teaching at its Best, provides the following suggestions for a lecture:

  • Start the lecture with a comment or slide that gives the overall connection of how the lesson connects to the course objectives
  • Give a connection and review of last class to the current class
  • Find a way to draw the students into the current class’s material (sometimes called a hook or anticipatory set).

Other resources (here and here) suggest similar things–you want your students to get engaged from the start and get their brains thinking about the topic. Connecting my current class content to the bigger picture of the whole term is where I was falling short. I felt so overwhelmed just getting each lecture created I paid more attention to the content in slides rather than getting the students thinking about the overall concepts.

Don’t over do it

For example, last quarter I attempted to cover, all in one class, ethics in research and how to understand how well or poorly a news story did at reviewing a research article. In this rush, I didn’t hook the students into either part of the lecture. Instead, I jumped right into way too many slides with way too little connection to what the students knew already or the overarching goals that content was supposed to connect too.

Cognitive learning theory states that attention is an important first step in moving information into working memory and, ultimately, long-term memory. Educators can support learning by asking students to think about what they know, or think they know, about that topic. By not doing something to grab the student’s attention at the start and get them thinking about what they already know about the topic, I was interfering with their learning.

Time for a hook

Next time I plan on beginning by showing a clip from John Oliver’s Last Week Tonight on scientific studies to get students thinking about why it is important to be a smart consumer of research. Hopefully, this will “hook” the students, and we can have a productive conversation about what they know about news articles covering scientific research. After that, I will go into a 10-15 minute review (per Nilson’s suggestion, p. 115) of components to keep in mind when comparing a news article to a research article.

The exercise of reviewing my summer 2015 class has been a great experience. My takeaways from this process are:

  • Take a step back and review what you’ve already done
  • Review best teaching practices
  • Use this reflection to best plan how to reach your curriculum goals
  • Set up the students for success by giving them the big picture
  • Make sure to connect with the students at the beginning of each class.

I’m excited to start this summer with a more thoughtful approach!

bunnies in line

Screenshot from Bunnies, Dragons and the ‘Normal’ World: Central Limit Theorem | The New York Times

The latest in a series of guest blog posts from students in the GCCUT program course GRAD 599. GRAD 599 is a self-directed learning experience, providing structure and context for professional development opportunities in teaching, such as workshops, seminars, webinars, symposia, and other relevant programming.

By Heather Kitada

My name is Heather, and I’m a fourth year Ph.D. student in statistics. In addition to my research obligations, I have been the lab instructor for several undergraduate and graduate level statistics courses. I love mathematical sciences, and they have always fascinated me. I am inspired by the ubiquitous nature of mathematics and am engrossed in the endeavor to understand variability and attempt to model the world around me.

However, in the classroom, I seem to have a problem engaging my students and convincing them that the subject matter applies to their lives. Many of our undergraduate courses are service courses for other departments and the students often just view them as graduation requirements. Therefore, I have observed that students often lack the motivation and interest in the subject of statistics. To overcome this, I utilize the following strategies.

My strategies to engage students

  1. I try to spark student interest while in lab by incorporating real world examples and drawing connections between the topics covered.
  2. I create a community of learners by offering opportunities for discussion that allow students to grapple with challenging topics and stimulate introspection.
  3. I have an interest in informal education utilizing diverse digital resources. Due to the increased accessibility and students comfort with internet resources, this enables them to achieve some independence and ownership for their learning.
  4. I allow students and the discussion to take tangents that will enrich the learning experience.

With these traits in mind, I found a fun and cute example that explains several complex statistical concepts such as sampling variability, sample size, and the central limit theorem. This video is hosted by the New York Times and was created by CreatureCast and is entitled “Bunnies, Dragons and the ‘Normal’ World: Central Limit Theorem”.

I also found this video on TED by author John Green entitled “The nerd’s guide to learning everything online”, which I enjoyed and took some inspiration from.

sunflower in someone's hair

Photo by Tenz1225 on Flickr

The latest in a series of guest blog posts from students in the GCCUT program course GRAD 599. GRAD 599 is a self-directed learning experience, providing structure and context for professional development opportunities in teaching, such as workshops, seminars, webinars, symposia, and other relevant programming.

My name is Ching Chih Tseng, a third-year student of Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies. I am an indigenous woman from the Amis tribe in Taiwan.

My first teaching experience was tough because I taught in English and worked hard to engage with the students. As a guest speaker in the class, I was not familiar with the students.

My lecture topic was talking about the Sunflower Protest that happened in 2014 in Taiwan. Through this event, I wanted to teach students about social justice and the power of people’s voices. They were interested in the topic, but I think they felt a little bit confused and found it hard to follow the content because they are not familiar with the Taiwanese culture and society. It was also a challenge for me to interact with students. I did not know how to react when students did not answer my questions.

On reflection, I think I need to lead students to interact with me and figure out how to break the silence. I should plan more class discussions and activities. A well-prepared lesson plan can meet students’ needs and encourage learning. Through this experience, I learned that I need to prepare my aims and make my objectives explicit and appropriate for the students and syllabus. Overall, teaching the class was a great experience, but I need to practice.

Here are the main things the classes in teaching I have taken at OSU taught me:

  • Teaching is a performance.
  • I need to present an interesting topic to the class.
  • I should facilitate learning instead of lecturing in class.
  • The atmosphere and teachers-students relationships are crucial for student success.
  • I need an effective plan that is well-paced, varied, active, challenging and logically structured.

Recognizing cultural differences

Studies abroad let me realize how cultural differences impact my perception of how people learn and the different ways they gain knowledge. Compared to the western education system, most Asian countries are more like the banking system of education. In that system, teachers are the only resources of knowledge and authority in the classroom. There are few chances for students to learn and practice critical thinking. Students are only accepting the knowledge, but not learning. In contrast, the western education system requires students to create, to criticize and to analyze. Instructors help students understand what they read from the textbook and to challenge the content to have strong conclusions or support for the knowledge.

…as a teacher, our job is to teach the students not the subjects.

The TED talk I’m sharing with you is an example of “Flip Classroom Learning” in Taiwan. (speaking in Chinese Mandarin with transcript in English) I felt glad that the old education system in my country is finally improving by many teachers’ hard work and the passion to make a change for students. The video also encourages me not to be afraid to change. Now I realize, as a teacher, our job is to teach the students not the subjects.

Stop making me laugh you'll make me puma pants

The latest in a series of guest blog posts from students in the GCCUT program course GRAD 599. GRAD 599 is a self-directed learning experience, providing structure and context for professional development opportunities in teaching, such as workshops, seminars, webinars, symposia, and other relevant programming.

By Laurie Harrer

My name is Laurie Harrer, and I am a master’s student in the Department of Fisheries and Wildlife. I have taught one of the most math-heavy courses offered in my department’s undergraduate curriculum both on-campus and online. Most of my students do not have much experience with they types of mathematical models taught in my class. I need to both motivate my students to learn and make them comfortable enough to ask for help. I have found the fastest, easiest, and most natural way for me to accomplish this is through humor.

I have found many ways to incorporate humor into my teaching. I use wildlife pun memes in the announcements I write to my students via Canvas. I casually poke fun at myself to reassure students that I too had difficulty with some of the material they learn in my class. I also play some of my favorite YouTube videos in the lab: a series by zefrank1 called “True Facts” which give fun facts about various animal species. The more I make my students laugh, the more they relax and enjoy learning.

The more I make my students laugh, the more they relax and enjoy learning.

My anecdotal evidence that humor helps my students is not unusual. In Winter 2006, a paper by R. L. Garner was published in College Teaching titled, “Humor in Pedagogy: How Ha-Ha Can Lead to Aha!”. Garner found that students who learned a lesson that used funny stories, examples and metaphors retained more information than those who learned the same lesson without humor.

It is not necessary to have stand-up worthy material to introduce humor into a class. I have found some of my lamest puns get the most positive reception from my students. The act of trying to connect with students through humor seems to make a large difference. The internet abounds with funny memes and videos about almost any subject – incorporating some of those materials throughout a course could make a large difference in the students’ relationship with both the teacher and the subject.

Taking pictures

Photo by blackyuuki on Flickr

The latest in a series of guest blog posts from students in the GCCUT program course GRAD 599. GRAD 599 is a self-directed learning experience, providing structure and context for professional development opportunities in teaching, such as workshops, seminars, webinars, symposia, and other relevant programming.

By Raisa Canete Blazquez

First, a little about me. I’m a Spanish GTA. I had the opportunity to work with another instructor for one term, and now teach a class on my own. I have already faced some challenging experiences in just the two terms I’ve taught. Here’s a little about one of them: engagement.

We have an assignment that encourages the students to get outside and try to learn more about the local Spanish-speaking community. The students respond to a prompt with an original photo. An example of a prompt is “Where is Spanish spoken in your community?” Students share the photos in class and write a reflection paper where, we hope, they show some growth regarding cultural knowledge and awareness of what’s going on in the local community.

Recently, when I presented the assignment, the students did not seem very excited about it. They kept coming to me saying there was nothing out there – they didn’t want to take the time to go out and explore. I told them to think beyond their first idea, and that a Mexican restaurant was an easy option that I hoped they avoided and to come up with a more original idea. Still, I got a few restaurant pictures, and I could tell some students had taken the picture the day before their presentation.

I wanted them to realize the importance of this lesson and to learn from it. Disappointed, I kept thinking about how I could improve the way I presented it. I want to inspire them and make them more excited about it; take them away from the idea of “another boring assignment”.

This assignment (with a different prompt) is coming up again, and I am terrified. I need some skills to make this it more appealing.

So I watched “Engage your students with real-world projects,” a webinar from the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD). Even though it was not specifically addressing my case, the webinar promises to “outline strategies to help you plan for more authentic, relevant learning experiences.” The main takeaways for me were:

  • Find a way to introduce the assignment that causes interest and curiosity.
  • Interact with the students and pay close attention to whether or not they are engaging with the assignment or not.
  • And my favorite: Increase the relevance, but keep the rigor.

These ideas address my concerns and will help me have a better experience with my students next time I give them this assignment, and maybe, fewer restaurant photos.


Busy by Newtown grafitti on Flickr

The latest in a series of guest blog posts from students in the GCCUT program course GRAD 599. GRAD 599 is a self-directed learning experience, providing structure and context for professional development opportunities in teaching, such as workshops, seminars, webinars, symposia, and other relevant programming.

By Theresa Harper

If you are anything like me, you’ve thought “I don’t have enough time!” at least once this week (or maybe today, or in the last five minutes.) My name is Theresa Harper, and I’ve come to think I should list “priorities juggler” on my resume. I’m a mom of two with a third coming soon, have a full-time job, teach an online class, and am in the Graduate Certificate in College and University Teaching program at OSU. I feel busy. I AM busy! So, I get it when my students come to me feeling frazzled or overwhelmed, or wondering how they can get it all done.

The truth is, sometimes you can’t get “it all” done. Time is limited. 24 hours in a day, that’s all you get. However, I am a big fan of the idea that although there isn’t time for everything (until I get my hands on one of those Harry Potter Time-Turners), there is time for the most important thing each day.

Steven Covey wrote “the 7 habits of highly effective people” back in 1989 and talked about a demonstration that involved filling a jar with big rocks, smaller rocks, sand, and water. Each of these Covey said could represent different priorities of things in life. Some things are urgent, some are important, some are both, and some are neither. (Where does checking Facebook fall for you?) The visual is worth watching, but the takeaway is that if you fill your day first with the unimportant or non-urgent, your jar will get filled up, and not all of the big important rocks will find a spot.

I think this applies to students as well. Some things are important (studying for tests); some are urgent (that discussion board due today); and some are just not (ahem, my Facebook habit.) If faculty and teaching assistants are intentional about communicating the important and urgent about our courses, it can help students prioritize effectively. Give students an accurate course calendar that includes the hard deadlines as well as recommendations for time for reading, projects, and study each week. Remind students that this course is a big (and expensive) rock, and deserves prioritization if learning the material (and getting that good grade) is important to them.

If faculty and teaching assistants are intentional about communicating the important and urgent about our courses, it can help students prioritize effectively.

Most of the time, I teach online to adult learners. I accept that my courses are not always the biggest rocks my students have in their life. That discussion board post might not make it to this week’s “important” list. I can support and remind and maybe even be flexible, but I also have to trust the student to know their values and priorities and schedule accordingly, just like I do.

I like sharing the “7 big rocks” video with students and encourage them to think about what makes it onto their important list. What happens if they don’t pay attention to their list? And what does it mean for their goals if education doesn’t make the cut right now? I also like this Lifehacker article about how to prioritize when everything is important, which starts with the thought provoking question “Is everything really important?” which can help filter the rocks from the sand of a student’s life.

Broken ice on the Branford River

Photo by Slack12 on Flickr

The latest in a series of guest blog posts from students in the GCCUT program course GRAD 599. GRAD 599 is a self-directed learning experience, providing structure and context for professional development opportunities in teaching, such as workshops, seminars, webinars, symposia, and other relevant programming.

By Jafra Thomas

Since last spring, I realized that I get nervous presenting in front of people. And it is even worse if I do not know the audience members well. Recently, while covering a lecture for my major advisor, I realized the fear can show up even when presenting to students. The silence in the room was so awkward; I just stammered through the lecture. Afterward, I felt defeated and was sure the students didn’t learn anything that day. To my surprise, a student came up and said I did a good job; he smiled, and we shook hands. At that moment, I realized two things: I’m not doing as bad of a job as I thought, and I appreciated the student treating me like a person.

Connecting and building rapport with students is challenging. Both students and faculty have many things on their plate that can get in the way. Students have busy lives and attending class can sometimes just be something that they need to get through. Even for me, on that morning of my lecture I was feeling pressured to complete several tasks with looming deadlines, and so going into the lecture I was already jittery and distracted. And then throw a hundred of silent faces looking at you as you wait for a response, but one is not given! Not fun.

Luckily, during my second lecture, things were better, students smiled and even participated. I realized it was due to familiarity; they knew me and were more inclined to participate. Breaking the ice on the very first day can be challenging (even if that first day is midway through the term!) but as my experience showed me it is important.

Dave Ferreira suggests using ice-breakers to build rapport with your students. These can be done in a relatively short amount of time. If I would have used an ice-breaker that took 5 minutes instead of jumping right into the lecture, then I’m sure my experience would have been better. The students wouldn’t have seemed so distant to me if we had spent a few moments to come together and appreciate one another. Who wouldn’t want to take a moment to feel appreciated! Ferreira cites a research study that found both students and faculty had a desire to feel connected to each other but did not know how to express it.

Take the time to build rapport with your students. How much effort and attention students are willing to give a lecture or professor is partially influenced by their relationship. By feeling connected to the professor, students are more likely to develop a sense of ownership over the course, and that the course is actively being shaped to support them by meeting their learning and personal needs.

Beyond feeling a connection to the instructor or professor, Ferreira states that students also want to know what is in the syllabus, how much work to expect, and what the instructor’s policy on attendance is. By providing course expectations, personal stories, and including ice-breakers relevant to learning outcomes, or soon-to-be learning experiences, you can foster student interest and a desire for participation.

Ferreria’s article gave me some excellent tools. Next time I start a lecture, or an entire term, I’m going to make sure I include an icebreaker. I think I owe it to my students, and myself.


Ferreira, D. (n.d.) “College faculty insider’s guide to the first day of class.” Three Reivers Community College. Retrieved from

reading a book

Our first in a series of guest blog posts from students in the GCCUT program course GRAD 599. GRAD 599 is a self-directed learning experience, providing structure and context for professional development opportunities in teaching, such as workshops, seminars, webinars, symposia, and other relevant programming.

By Katy Serafin

While my formal teaching experience is limited, as a PhD student in the College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences, I have sat through tens of years of undergraduate and graduate classes as a student in each of the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) areas. I have also had numerous non-formal teaching experiences such as guest lectures at science camps, stakeholder meetings and presentations at science conferences. One challenge I have faced, and have seen others face in the classroom and in public, is presenting material in an engaging, relevant and understandable way.

Details, details, details

As a researcher, I spend my days picking apart datasets, and evaluating and re-evaluating when I think I may have done something incorrectly. In a field where details matter it is often hard to convey the message behind the details without overwhelming your audience.

I know, for example, an explanation of how the coastline changes to a graduate level class would be very different than one to a group of eighth-graders at a STEM camp. But how much detail is too much detail? When do students become overloaded and bored?

A study tracking 17,000 post-secondary education students in the United States and Puerto Rico showed sixty percent of students enrolled in a STEM discipline switched to a non-STEM field or left without a degree [1]. Many of those students who transferred out of a STEM field stated that both the atmosphere and teaching methods in intro STEM classes were ineffective and uninspiring [2].

Less is more

Tyler DeWitt’s Ted talk, “Hey Science Teachers – Make it Fun” describes how science can be fun and inspiring if we learn to become effective communicators. DeWitt’s talk focuses on a classroom experience he had teaching middle-schoolers, but his suggestions pertain to communicating science in general. His major point is, when teaching, we need to stop worrying about details all of the time because students can face information overload memorizing facts without ever realizing the bigger picture. They also often read sentences they do not understand because the language is too technical.

DeWitt states, “Sometimes you have to lie in order to tell the truth.” What this really means is sometimes the details just do not matter—it is recognizing when they do that is important. DeWitt also conveys science can be fun, relevant, and inspiring if we make connections for the students. His approach is to use story telling.

“Sometimes you have to lie in order to tell the truth”

The power of a story

So let me tell you a story. I research how big waves combine with high tides to generate flooding and erosion on the coast. Why do I study this you ask? I grew up vacationing on the beaches of North Carolina with my family and friends. I spent my summers playing in the waves, cartwheeling in the sand, and smelling the salty air. I watched the coast change dramatically as waves ripped through the island during hurricanes and wondered if the place we loved would ever be the same. My passion for my research is intrinsic—I am studying a place I have always and will always have a deep connection to. However, not everyone will have that type of connection to the science I study or the science I will teach. So, in order for others to see the science in another light, we as educators need to tell stories. We need to create analogies that make sense and help students understand the bigger picture. Only then will they want to learn the details.

  1. Waldorp, M.M. The Science of Teaching Science, Nature, 523, pp 272–274, (2015).

  2. President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology. Engage to Excel: Producing One Million Additional College Graduates with Degrees in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (White House, 2012).
    Link to graphic:

Disclaimer: The content of this blog belongs to the guest author. Content may not reflect the viewpoints or practices of the OSU Graduate School.