Helping students succeed

A chemists hands holding liquid chemistry experiment.Senior zoology major Cassandra McElroen became a Chemistry 105 teaching assistant because she enjoys helping people and wants to provide students with a better understanding of the material.

Her role as a TA includes holding office hours once a week, where students can ask questions about anything chemistry-related. She also runs a lab section, where she helps her students run experiments and then grades their datasheets and lab reports, she said.

“I like thinking of new ways to help students,” she said. “School is so stressful, and I want them to come in and be a little more relaxed in the lab, knowing that I am there to help them.”

She said she does a lot of outside work to help her students become successful.

Chemistry 105 TA Cassandra McElroen stands outside a lab room in Fulmer Hall.

“We are doing an exam prep competition where I am taking questions out of the back of the book and having them approved by the professor,” she said. “The students can do them in class and win a prize. I sent out a survey so that I knew what problems people wanted help on.”

WSU junior Savannah Chandler said that as her TA, McElroen is always willing to provide insight into chemistry concepts that students do not understand. She explains problems in different ways to help students see them from a different perspective.

“She’s always extra willing to help,” Chandler said. “I always feel like when I’m struggling with something, she explains it to me in different ways to make sure I have a good grasp on it.”

The hardest part about being a TA is being the bridge between students and professors, she said. The TAs are responsible for grading labs, but the rules for doing that come from the professors. Therefore, if a student submits a late assignment, even if they put a lot of effort into it, McElroen has to give the submission a zero.

“I have to understand that teachers do things for legitimate reasons, but from the students’ perspective, everybody has so many different things going on in their lives,” she said.

Although there may be some struggles with being a TA, McElroen said there are many rewarding aspects. One of those includes getting to interact with her students.

“I almost always have one student, and it’s always a different student, who stays late. I find out about them, and it’s really interesting to see all of the different people who end up in a chemistry class,” McElroen said.

Chandler said McElroen is very patient with students. She has a positive outlook and is willing to help in any way she can. She always encourages her students to absorb information. She does not make anyone feel bad if they do not understand an answer.

“I just feel like I can trust her, and I don’t feel stupid when I’m asking questions. I feel more comfortable going to her with any questions that I do have,” Chandler said.

McElroen said there is a huge level of organization that occurs between professors and all of the managers within the department. The students never get to see the extra work that the department does.

“Once I started getting a lab section and [the professors] started going through everything, I realized that this was something I really wanted to do,” McElroen said. “I remember what [Chem 105] was like, and I want to find ways to help students complete their work.”

This is McElroen’s first time being a TA and she said it is a very different experience since she is so used to being the student, as opposed to the teacher.

“The first time I walked into [the lab], it was surreal,” she said. “All of these people walked up to me, and they’re like ‘I have to miss the lab next week’ and I am just like, ‘oh my god, I was you at one point.’”

“It’s fun to learn, but it’s also just fun to be a part of something,” she said.

McElroen is married and has a nine-year-old daughter who is autistic. She said most of her life revolves around her family, while the other part bases itself around school.

As a zoology major, she is passionate about animals and is certified in wildlife rehabilitation. After graduation, McElroen said she will do three months of wildlife rehabilitation and then work on a graduate certificate for wildlife management and a professional master’s degree in wildlife conservation.

Top photo by Drew Hays, Unsplash

By Kaitlynn Lohmann, Daily Evergreen