Teaching at the Forefront
Teaching is Collaboration
Bridging Improv, Psychology and Pedagogical Practices
What does UCI mean to you?
UCI represented new opportunities for me. I’m a first-generation student who at one point did not believe I was smart or capable enough for college. It was an unobtainable ideal – something for the privileged and elite. I came to defeat this mindset over time. Teaching my students to identify and challenge such beliefs is a personal mission of mine. To demonstrate to them that they can shape their destinies through hard work, self-reflection, and having a growth mindset.
I moved to Irvine working two jobs for 12+ hours a day – right across from UCI, in fact. I remember staring at it between waiting tables. I wanted nothing more than to be there, to be the first in my family to have an advanced education, to teach and contribute to the greater body of knowledge. Thankfully, I had that opportunity.
What made you decide to pursue a graduate degree?
I love research. I found myself drifting off in classes thinking about experiments I could do. I find problems and crave answers. Designing the appropriate experiment is like a game or riddle to me. It’s an intriguing challenge requiring research, creativity and – more importantly – patience.
I also love teaching. I’ve been an improv comedy coach for almost a decade, working with local high schools as a member of Orange County’s own ImprovCity. In improv, we focus on principles of self-growth, collaboration, facing your fears, and thinking outside-the-box. Seeing my students grow and form bonds (many of which continue to this day) inspired me. It’s these same principles that I bring to teaching psychology and pedagogical practice.
How has UCI helped facilitate your education (courses, fellowships, other opportunities)?
The Pedagogical Fellows (PF) Program through the Division of Teaching Excellence and Innovation (DTEI) has made a huge impact on me. As a PF, I’ve had the opportunity to build my teaching, mentorship, and professional skills. It was also helpful to talk and collaborate with grad students across other disciplines. It’s a sense of broader academic community that we can all benefit from. (A special shout-out to Dr. Daniel Mann, the director of our program. His knowledge and leadership cannot be understated.)
How has teaching impacted you?
It’s made me a more patient, reflective person. (It’s also made me a better performer, as my students have pointed out.) It’s an incredibly rewarding process that requires thoughtfulness, listening, and adaptation.
I see teaching as a collaboration between students and instructors. Our role is to give students the tools, confidence, and means to master material and succeed in and outside the classroom, but students must also take an active role for this to happen. We have to work together to identify and overcome challenges.
It’s crucial to me that students feel empowered and that their work feels meaningful. Material can sometimes feel nebulous, especially when there’s so much and when it’s delivered at the accelerated pace of Summer Session. I have students connect lessons to real life as much as possible, as well as seek out related research that interests them.
Some of my primary goals in teaching Psychology Fundamentals are to build science literacy, encourage critical thinking, and give students a clear, honest look at research “on the ground.” Again, this can seem like a vague process exclusively yielding the flashy results we see in textbooks. Understanding science as a careful, incremental process is critical in becoming an informed thinker – whether you plan to go into industry, academia, or something else altogether. It’s more critical now than ever in this age of misinformation.
How do you establish work-life balance as a graduate student?
It’s difficult, and I don’t think we talk about it enough. Research can be engrossing, but it can also be consuming. When you have infinite opportunities before you – so many questions unanswered, so many techniques to introduce and hone – you can be overwhelmed. And unlike other jobs, your research (among other responsibilities) follows you far after the “end of the day.”
I try to make concrete, actionable goals for each day. I used to call it my “To-Do List,” but now it’s my “Things to Lower My Stress List.” It’s a distinction that’s made a huge impact on my mental health.
I also force myself to play games each day. (I’m getting a lot of mileage out of my RetroPie and competitive Overwatch.) It helps to immerse myself in other realities for a while. I’ve also started teaching myself game design, though that’s a bit more mentally taxing than just playing games.
Lastly, I try to do and teach improv as much as possible. It’s a great way to blow off steam and live directly in the moment. You can’t think about anything else while doing scenes – it takes a completely free and open mind. It’s uniquely cathartic.
What are you hoping to do with your teaching or research upon graduation?
I’m still exploring that. Right now, I’m just focusing on my research and teaching at UCI.