RC 20/20

Introducing & Institutionalizing Learning Assistant Program Helped Transform Gateway STEM Series

Nadia Sellami, Associate Director of the Academic Support Program, Keck School of Medicine, University of Southern California 

Erin Sanders, Director of the Center for Education Innovation and Learning in the Sciences (CEILS), University of California-Los Angeles

Shanna Shaked, Senior Associate Director of CEILS for Physical Sciences Initiatives, Director of Learning Assistants Program for the Sciences, Lecturer in the Department of Physics and Astronomy, University of California-Los Angeles

Heather Tienson-Tseng, Instructional Consultant for CEILS, Continuing Lecturer in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, University of California-Los Angeles

Introducing and Institutionalizing a Learning Assistant Program Helped a Campus Transform ALL Gateway STEM Series


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Shanna Shaked

Shanna Shaked is a leader at UCLA in the use of evidence-based teaching techniques, particularly those that aid in the retention of underrepresented groups. She has also pioneered a range of interdisciplinary teaching collaborations with faculty across the UCLA Physical and Life Sciences. After earning her B.S. and B.A. in Physics, Astronomy and Mathematics from the University of Arizona, she received a Ph.D. in Applied Physics from the University of Michigan and a Master of Arts in Teaching from Ithaca College. Her research experience ranges across astrophysics, biophysics, environmental physics, pollutant modeling, sustainability, and ultimately physics education research.

At UCLA, Dr. Shaked has initiated a range of evidence-based teaching techniques, including co-founding and directing UCLA’s interdisciplinary undergraduate Learning Assistant program to promote active learning and inclusivity in large lecture courses. She is also the co-director of UCLA’s “Faculty Learning Program”, which provides intensive year-long professional development for faculty wanting to incorporate more inclusive and effective teaching practices. Dr. Shaked is an HHMI/National Academies Summer Institute Fellow and Facilitator and a regular participant and presenter in national and regional STEM education conferences. She has also facilitated curricular transformations in introductory physics, mathematics and chemistry curricula at UCLA.

Through teaching introductory physics and other courses, Dr. Shaked has extensive experience with the following classroom technologies and activities: clickers with peer instruction, pre-lecture assignments and interactive videos, collaborative workshop discussions, weekly quizzes, real world application group projects, online discussion forums, collaborative office hours, and mid-quarter student feedback. Dr. Shaked is also an expert in the implementation of pre- and post-tests and surveys to assess the effectiveness of such educational interventions. Building on her training and experience in teaching middle and high school science, Dr. Shaked has worked with other faculty and in her own courses to mentor UCLA undergraduates to present science to more than 2,000 K-12 and community college students and at multiple outreach events per year. She has also aided faculty in successfully designing broader impact components for NSF grants, integrating faculty research into effective outreach activities.

The overall focus of Dr. Shaked’s efforts in CEILS is to identify and address the educational needs and interests of STEM faculty, and in so doing, support the academic success of all UCLA students.

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Heather Tienson -Tseng

Heather Tienson is a Lecturer in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, where she teaches Introductory Biochemistry (Chem 153A). Dr. Tienson earned both her B.S. and Ph.D in Biochemistry from UCLA. Her graduate research focused on protein import into mitochondria, where she helped characterize a redox dependent pathway for the import of proteins into the mitochondrial intermembrane space. Dr. Tienson conducted postdoctoral research at the University of Michigan. Her research interests remained in redox biology, with a focus on the role of redox homeostasis in aging. In 2012, she returned to UCLA to teach Biochemistry.

She is passionate about improving instruction in large undergraduate course, focusing on improving student critical thinking skills and scientific reasoning in courses with greater than 200 students. As a CEILS Instructional Consultant, Dr. Tienson offers workshops and individual consultations in pedagogies such as POGIL, a type of problem-based learning suitable for large enrollment classes. She is available to discuss classroom technologies that assist with grading efficiencies and improve the quality of feedback given to students on exams and other assignments. Drawing upon her experience in curriculum development, Dr. Tienson provides advice on how to effectively work with Teaching Assistants and engage them in more inclusive, collaborative learning techniques during discussion sections.

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Nadia Sellami

Dr. Nadia Sellami is passionate about helping students achieve their learning goals in their biomedical and medical education. Dr. Sellami received her undergraduate degree in Biochemistry/Molecular Biology and Human Genetics from the University of Kiel, Germany, and her PhD in Biological Chemistry from UCLA. Her undergraduate and graduate research focused on Epigenetics and induced pluripotent stem cells.

Passionate about teaching, Dr. Sellami completed postdoctoral training at UCLA as a DBER (discipline based education research) fellow, which allowed her to both teach courses in Molecular Biology (among others) as well as study the impact of the implementation of pedagogical innovations on students' learning.

Dr. Sellami is a co-founder of the Learning Assistant (LA) program at UCLA and continues to be a strong proponent of near-peer instruction.

Following her postdoctoral training, Dr. Sellami served as the Assistant Director at the UCLA Undergraduate Research Center, overseeing the PEERS program for science students from underrepresented backgrounds, and the STEM summer research program for Santa Monica College students. In this role, Dr. Sellami implemented academic support programs to foster student success and conducted research on the effectiveness of those. She continues this line of work in her current role as the Associate Director of Academic Support Services and Assistant Professor of Medical Education in the Keck School of Medicine at the University of Southern California, where she leads academic success and peer instruction programs for medical students.


Erin Sanders

Erin Sanders O’Leary is an accomplished leader in the development and assessment of innovative strategies for undergraduate STEM education both in the classroom and laboratory. Dr. Sanders earned her B.S. in Chemistry from DePaul University in Chicago, IL in 1998 and her Ph.D. in Biological Chemistry from UCLA in 2005. Her research interests and experience span a variety of life sciences disciplines including molecular systematics of plastid genes in green algae, mechanisms of site-specific DNA recombination in bacteria, and composition studies of bio-energy relevant microbial communities. As a faculty member in UCLA’s Department of Microbiology, Immunology, and Molecular Genetics (MIMG), Dr. Sanders pioneered the development of an innovative curriculum for MIMG undergraduates and coordinated the creation of new upper division courses that provide course-based research experiences (CUREs) and apprentice-based research experiences for all MIMG majors. Dr. Sanders is the author of a textbook for the microbiology CURE, has published on her assessment-informed curricular reform efforts, and is a recognized scholar in STEM education.

As the founding director of CEILS, Dr. Sanders works with the Associate Deans Blaire Van Valkenburgh and Albert Courey as well as the Faculty Advisory Committee to coordinate CEILS activities to meet the needs and interests of participating faculty in departments and interdisciplinary programs responsible for instruction of undergraduate courses in the Life and Physical Sciences. By conferring with CEILS participants, leadership, and cross-campus units, Dr. Sanders helps promote and support education and diversity initiatives that strengthen the teaching community at UCLA.