The graduate teaching assistants and instructors in our department are exceptionally talented, hard-working, and successful. In our large enrollment courses, teaching assistants conduct discussion sections, grade papers and exams, and meet with students to help them navigate the challenges of higher education at UW. Graduate instructors, who have completed all requirements for the Ph.D. except the dissertation, teach independent courses. Teaching assistants and graduate instructors do all of this in addition to their own demanding schedule of graduate studies in political science.
One tangible measure of their performance comes at the end of every quarter when student evaluations of courses are tabulated and sent back to departments for review. Our graduate teaching assistants and instructors consistently garner impressive scores on their teaching evaluations. Within this environment of outstanding teaching, our graduate student teachers have been especially competitive for the annual University-wide Excellence in Teaching Award, which honors two graduate teaching assistants every spring.
The most recent recipient of the UW Excellence in Teaching Award (2013) is Deepa Bhandaru. Only two such awards are made in the entire University each year. Deepa’s graduate training and teaching focus on the academic field of political theory. She taught many sections of Introduction to Political Theory as a teaching assistant. She also served as a teaching assistant for Afro-American Political Thought, American Political Thought, Modern Political Thought, and Philosophies of Feminism. These courses tend to be reading- and writing-intensive, and they demand a great deal of instructional acumen from teaching assistants, who teach from primary source materials rather than textbooks, and must evaluate and grade a significant number of writing assignments and essay exams. Deepa also taught independent courses on the concepts of power and freedom, with similar attributes.
As Deepa appreciates, many students are intimidated by “theory,” by the high expectations that are placed on them to read primary source works by “great thinkers,” to think in theoretical terms that do not translate into “sound bites,” and by the demands of intelligent and cogent writing. She invites students to aspire to deep thinking about perennial and contemporary political issues, to discover the joy of thinking, to craft their oral and written communications skills in ways that will be credible and effective, and she offers a generous helping hand.
In addition to her stellar record as a graduate student and teacher, Deepa has made time for community service. She has served as a volunteer in the Youth Program of the Refugee Women’s Alliance, as a mentor in the Big Brothers/Big Sisters Program, and participated in the UW Dream Project, where she helped local high school seniors write their college application essays. As Deepa’s record of community service attests, she is especially committed to the empowerment of youth from immigrant and racial minority communities. Deepa’s sensitivities to the challenges experienced by those who don’t quite “belong” in higher education extend to her teaching philosophy and practice, and help to explain her success as a teacher with all students, not just those from underserved and challenged communities.
Deepa received her Ph.D. in Spring 2013, shortly after defending her dissertation, “Hannah Arendt’s Transformative Freedom and Antiracist Politics.” She will return to UW, during Winter quarter 2014, as Dr. Bhandaru, to teach “Introduction to Political Theory.” Students who sign up for her class will be in for a terrific learning experience.