Some freshmen at Penn are splitting their time between taking classes and teaching classes.
Wharton and Engineering freshman George Pandya is a teaching assistant in the Department of Mechanical Engineering and Applied Mechanics who had experience in large-scale engineering projects before coming to Penn. He worked with NASA’s Space Grant Consortium as a contractor to develop a radiation detector that was launched into space last summer.
“They wanted people who had more knowledge of mechanical engineering,” Pandya said. “I was able to get some experience with developing mechanical tools before I came here and that really helped me get the position when I applied.”
For certain academic departments, there is a formal application procedure for TA positions, whereas for others, getting the position depends more on a student’s aptitude for the class and the relationship they develop with their professors.
Most freshman TAs say that prior experience in their fields helped them obtain and perform their job.
They are also mostly found in departments in the School of Engineering and Applied Science. Fewer freshmen find TA positions in the College of Arts and Sciences and the Wharton School.
Wharton freshman Vinayak Kumar is currently the only freshman TA in the Department of Physics and Astronomy in the College. He reached out to professors expressing interest in the position at the end of last semester.
“I think at Wharton, it’s not just about understanding the material really well, it’s about the pedigree that you have,” Kumar said when asked why there are fewer freshman TAs in schools other than Engineering. “If you’re in finance, not only do you have to know the material really well, you also need to have taken more classes.”
Some freshmen chose to apply for TA positions to expand on the knowledge they developed when they took the class. College freshman Hana Pearlman is a computer and information science TA, who found that her position has helped her better understand her subject by giving her additional practice with coding.
“The majority of my time TA-ing is spent doing the homeworks and then helping people on those homeworks and it gets really easy to debug code when you see the same issue over and over again,” Pearlman said. “That’s a benefit for me because I think more experience recognizing algorithms and recognizing problems with algorithms helps me with the CIS classes I’m taking now.”
Others find that their freshman status is a benefit. College freshman Sylvia Rhodes is a Chinese TA who said that being a freshman allows her to connect on a social level with her students.
“One of my best moments is connecting with my students as friends,” Rhodes said. “I guess that’s part of being a freshman TA. Because for my TAs, in most of my classes, they’re mostly graduate students and I see them as my teacher. I feel like when I talk to my students I try to be more like a friend.”
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