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GRADUATE TEACHING ASSISTANT EXCELLENCE AWARD Joyce Smaragdis

By Susan Trulove

Spectrum Volume 18 Issue 28 - April 18, 1996

"Joyce Smaragdis is already that exceptional teacher who seeks out the most difficult challenges and then rises to them," wrote Linda Anderson, director of graduate studies in English, in nominating Smaragdis for Virginia Tech's Graduate Teaching Assistant Award.

"If there were a Graduate Teaching Assistant Award for Effort, Joyce would win that one `hands down,'" wrote Paul Heilker, co-director of the English department's writing programs.

When Smaragdis taught freshman English her first semester, the "enormous effort" she put into preparing for every class "yielded near perfect teaching evaluations," Heilker reported.

She also taught the first and second courses in the writing-program sequence, which introduces students to the concept of writing as a process of developing and expressing values, interpretations, and judgments, and trains students in the rhetorical skills of analysis, argument, and critical reading and writing.

In addition, Smaragdis tutored in the writing center, tutored students with learning disabilities, and tutored those for whom English is not their native language.

"One of her most outstanding qualities is her enthusiasm for improving her teaching by developing new skills and welcoming new challenges," Anderson wrote.

Meanwhile, she served as a research assistant and maintained a nearly perfect grade point average in her own studies. Smaragdis has presented papers at three professional conferences. She represents the graduate students on the composition committee and is a founding member of the Graduate Student Professional Development Group.

Smaragdis' undergraduate work was in economics at the University of Virginia.

Before entering graduate school at Virginia Tech, she was an economic researcher at the Korean Embassy in Washington, D.C. She wrote and edited articles, letters, speeches, and embassy documents; compiled weekly reports on U.S.-China relations, and sat-in on bilateral trade negotiations between Korea and the United States. "My main objective (apart from compiling cogent economic reports) was to impart to these non-native speakers the written skills they needed to effectively communicate...." Smaragdis wrote.

That is also her goal with her students at Virginia Tech. "My job as a teacher and tutor...is to give my pupils the tools that they will need not only to succeed in [English classes] but also in every other class they take at Virginia Tech [and] to compete in the ever-changing and challenging world," Smaragdis said.

Throughout her courses, she says, her commitment is "to the courteous but critical exchange of ideas."

Colleague Lisa Norris noted that in every class Smaragdis used her students' names, and every student spoke.

"I consider my students to be intelligent, creative, capable intellectuals, and I find that, more often than not, they reach and surpass my expectations."