This semester, as a returning Undergraduate Teaching Fellow for COLQ 1030 “The Quest for Answers: Intro to Research Methods,” Lydia Woolley found herself discussing the course’s reading assignments for the third time in her undergraduate career. For the first time, though, she participated in these discussions from her home in Illinois. Lydia, a junior majoring in English and Political Science with a minor in Arabic, served as a Teaching Fellow for Professor F. Thomas Luongo’s first-year course. Undergraduate Teaching Fellows work with Colloquia professors and each other to serve as teaching assistants, mentors, and role models for first-year students in COLQ 1030, with the goal of connecting students to Tulane’s academic community and broadening their perspectives of research. Lydia decided to return to the course and to the role of Teaching Fellow because she found that every time she read the course texts and every opportunity she had to discuss them with a new group of peers, she learned something new. Regardless of the topic, the students in her classes give her a new perspective on the text as well as her own place within the university.
One of the benefits of participating in the course multiple times is Lydia’s increased comfort in drawing from different disciplines, as the interdisciplinary nature of the texts and students encourages those who participate in the colloquium courses to make connections between works from different fields. For example, she utilizes the idea of paradigm shifts from The Structure of Scientific Revolutions by Thomas S. Kuhn to contextualize topics she learns about in her English or Political Science classes. Lydia also finds that the ever-changing environment in which the class exists allows her to find new meanings in her readings and discussions. She says that “for these readings especially, their relevance to you and to the real world changes every year. The political climate, your emotional state, your interpersonal relationships can all change how you read a particular piece.” This spring’s course was especially affected by current events, as Tulane students and professors faced the unforeseen challenge of moving their classes online. While Lydia was concerned that this would dampen her class’ discussions, she feels that “discussions have either gone the same or students who weren't comfortable speaking up before are comfortable speaking up now.”
As Lydia prepares to enter the final year of her undergraduate experience at Tulane, she sees the impact being a Teaching Fellow has had on her academic perspective. Her role allows her to reflect on how she participates in discussions and how her presence in the classroom affects her professors and classmates. She says that taking on a teaching role in a classroom has helped her better understand her place at Tulane, and that “that's not something you can understand fully if you've only ever been a student.”
Lydia was one of eleven students to participate in the Undergraduate Teaching Fellows Program this semester and was also part of the first cohort last year. She says that the most important lesson she learned this semester was discovering “ways to allow the real world to come into the classroom and to be able to contextualize that discussion,” as the global pandemic has made it impossible to keep the two separate. She believes this better understanding of how to be vulnerable and empathetic in an academic setting will help her greatly in the future, as a student, a researcher, and a mentor.