Spectrum Logo
A non-profit publication of the Office of the University Relations of Virginia Tech,
including The Conductor, a special section of the Spectrum printed 4 times a year

Outstanding GTA's honored

By Susan Trulove

Spectrum Volume 18 Issue 26 - April 4, 1996

As a Ph.D. student in biology, Donna Jensen takes her research seriously. But her teaching duties are not a second priority, biology faculty members observe.

Student evaluations of Ph.D. student Jerry Warren Jr.'s teaching in lectures and laboratory classes in engineering science and mechanics was at a level attained by only a handful of faculty members. Warren's students repeatedly comment on his concern for them.

Jensen and Warren have been named Virginia Tech's 1995 Outstanding Graduate Teaching Assistants.

Faculty members request Donna Jensen as a GTA, and students elect to take her labs. Many students also have become her unofficial advisees, notes Joe Falkinham, Jensen's major professor.

Jensen's teaching ranges from freshman biology labs to a pilot development lab in genetics. Because of her ability and breadth of knowledge, she was asked to teach the molecular biology lab, which serves seniors and first-year graduate students and is part of the university's new biotechnology program. "It is a constantly evolving course that requires an up-to-date knowledge of the field," said Brenda W. Shirley, assistant professor.

Jensen "lectures clearly and concisely and also makes a point of getting to know students one-on-one in the laboratory setting," said Elizabeth Grabau, assistant professor. "She is extremely calm and patient with students. Her quiet style encourages even easily intimidated students to participate in discussion and exploration of the subject matter. Her individual attention to students provides them not only with knowledgeable answers but also with a view of what it is like to be a graduate student and a researcher."

"Donna's enthusiasm for science in general and molecular biology in particular was shown in her eagerness to relay her knowledge to the students," wrote GTA colleague Lana Nassif. "She was always prepared to ask and answer questions, probe students for thoughtful answers, and help anyone during and outside laboratory hours. She always made students feel good about themselves and encouraged them to persevere."

Jensen has also assisted with GTA training and with the revision of the microscope and microbial diversity labs.

In addition to her teaching duties, Jensen has an active research program in microbial genetics, has worked as a research assistant during the summers, has a nearly perfect academic record, and made presentations at regional and national scientific meetings.

She earned her bachelor of science degree in biology as a magna cum laude graduate of Southern College in Tennessee. She has been at Virginia Tech since 1992.

"Jay Warren knows the subject matter, communicates it effectively and with enthusiasm, and motivates students," said Norman Dowling, professor in engineering science and mechanics and in materials science and engineering.

Ronald Landgraf, ESM professor, said he was able to expand on course content because of Warren's assistance as a GTA with the senior design course.

Warren taught mechanical behavior of materials laboratory 11 times and the materials testing laboratory for four years, and also taught the lecture courses statics and strength of materials I and II, and statics and particle dynamics, "a critical introductory course required for all engineering majors," Dowling said. The fact that Warren was selected to teach this course "reflects a high degree of confidence by the ESM department in his ability and dedication."

"He can teach well, he has a genuine concern for students, etc. I could go on and on. By far the best instructor I've had," one student said.

"Makes the material actually exciting..." wrote another.

"Always available and willing to answer questions," is what one student said was his best quality, while others noted that Warren "Knows his stuff."

"Mr. Warren is always willing to take time to explain any problem that you have both during class or after."

Warren also volunteered in teaching duties outside of the classroom, such as a Saturday program for outstanding high school students, and the Center for Talented Youth's workshop for students aged 7 to 17. And he helped with seniors projects, such as a human-powered submarine competition.

Landgraf said of Warren's contribution to the submarine project: "he volunteered many hours" reviewing design concepts and calculations, providing guidance in use of computer-analysis software and training in use of power tools and shop equipment, making trips to the hardware store seeking solutions to "the problem of the day," and showing up with pizza, drinks, and "a dose of humor."

Landgraf said Warren excelled as a student and a researcher. He earned the Dr. Manuel Stein Scholarship from the College of Engineering this year in recognition of his academic work. Warren earned his undergraduate degree in civil engineering from Virginia Tech in 1987.