The clock struck 11 p.m., and I could already hear the library security guards walking down the hall towards our classroom to tell us to pack up. Every night preceding each midterm in Genetics, I held office hours for my students to drop by and to answer their last-minute questions. The rowdy and collaborative group of students once crowded into the classroom that night had now since dispersed. Only a few students remained, fiercely cramming the steps to transcription and translation. When I first started as a Supplemental Instructor (SI), I would never have imagined myself so passionate and excited to spend the evening in the basement of the library. Throughout my freshman year, I had been enthralled in my SI’s vast knowledge base and the careful methodology of their inquisitive instruction, always creating a fluid back-and-forth with the class. I began to understand the role transcends that of a standard instructor. When we hire our newest SI’s, we always make it clear to them that they do not share the same function as a teaching assistant. As peers who had already experienced the course and excelled in it, we were uniquely situated to intimately engage with our students in a way that a teaching assistant or faculty often cannot. We can relate with our students, become friends with them, and invest in them through shared experiences and similar perspectives.
“I believe I learned just as much from my students as I taught them. I became a leader who motivates and inspires others to achieve their potential.”
As a student entering an SI session for the first time, it can often feel that both the role of the SI and the reason for a session are veiled in a shroud of mystery. Does an SI help you build good study habits and a good work ethic? Do they help you make the difficult transition from high school to college? What if you like studying in groups; can an SI help create a learning community? In my time as an SI and now a captain, I discovered that every SI is different and each one helps their students answer these questions and achieve much more. Each of those late nights spent with my students was a chance for them to have their confusion relieved and misconceptions resolved. For me, it was a chance to connect with my students better, to find what motivates them. I learned how to best engage with my students and new ways to evolve my curriculum and lectures to help them best engage in the content at hand. As cliché as it sounds, I believe I learned just as much from my students as I taught them. I became a leader who motivates and inspires others to achieve their potential. I learned how to be vulnerable with my students so that they could be open with me. It’s a proud feeling now, seeing my students on campus and how much they have grown since those now-ancient late-night library study sessions. Many of those outstanding individuals I taught are now leaders on campus; some are now SI’s as well. My time as an SI has truly been the most formative experience I’ve had, and I would give anything to do it again.
Thomas Huang (NTC ’20) is a Neuroscience and Computer Science double major. He is currently serving as a Co-Captain for the Supplemental Instruction team.