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Claire Chen B.S. ’18 wins Outstanding Undergrad TA Award

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Claire Chen ECE B.S. ’18 has received the 2017-18 Chen Outstanding Undergraduate Teaching Assistant (TA) Awardfrom the School of Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE) at Cornell University. This award is presented annually to a member of the ECE undergraduate class based both on nominations and recommendations from faculty and students. 

Chen was nominated by Kirstin Petersen, Assistant Professor, ECE, for her work as a TA for ECE 3400, Intelligent Physical Systems, a heavily interdisciplinary class that focuses on bringing together knowledge from 2000-level ECE courses along with concepts from both Computer Science and Mechanical Engineering. As such, it progresses rapidly through a number of topics spanning analog circuitry and signal processing, field programmable gate arrays, rapid prototyping, statics and algorithms. Students form and lead teams, design websites and build an autonomous robot to compete in an end-of-semester challenge. 

“It is a daunting class for many students to take, let alone for students to TA,” said Petersen who teaches the course. “Claire enjoyed it so much that she offered to help me revamp it and also to TA.” 

“Having taken ECE 3400 just a year before becoming a TA, I was able to use that experience to motivate how I developed material for the course, ran weekly lab sections and office hours, and prepared my lecture,” said Chen.

Chen worked with Petersen during the summer of 2017 to update the course, restructuring the course’s five labs, building improved code-libraries for the students, writing extensive tutorials and designing a website with solutions as she went along. During the Fall 2017 course, she ran a weekly lab section, held office hours and gave a lecture on FPGAs.

“She has incredible technological insight, great communication skills and remarkable patience,” said Petersen. “Claire also has a positive, fun and outgoing nature that naturally comforts those around her. Everyone loved her, and many students came to her for advice on anything from technical questions to career choices.”

“The essence of teaching is about giving students the necessary support to solve problems, which I believe happens most effectively when teachers form connections with their students,” said Chen. “Courses like ECE 3400 are fun because students get to build robots, but they are valuable because students learn how to think critically, use previously acquired skills to solve problems, and design cutting edge solutions by working in teams. As a TA for the class, I wanted to make sure that my students had a great time building robots while also remembering that education is about personal and academic growth, not about being the best.”

Chen was recently accepted as a Ph.D. student at Stanford University. She will receive a monetary award along with an engraved plaque. 

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