What makes a great teaching assistant? Too many factors to mention — not only a mastery of the material, but essential qualities like empathy, flexibility, and even punctuality. In the past year, they innovated in planning and delivery, in many cases bringing additional global perspectives to the classroom.

The Dean’s Teaching Assistant Award winners are recognized each spring for work carried out over the prior school year. Each of Queen’s five engineering departments can select four assistants for recognition. For the 2020-21 school year, awards were evenly split between domestic and international students — showing how a strong international graduate program brings global benefits to Queen’s Engineering undergraduates as well.

“I was tutoring a very mathematical course on numerical methods and optimization, with procedures that seemed as arcane to me as to them,” says Sherif Azmy, a teaching assistant and international student, who came to Queen’s from Qatar and is pursuing graduate studies at Queen’s Engineering. “I tried to demystify these procedures and share that with the students, creating articles using Notion, recording explanation videos incorporating everything from control theory and chaos theory to the philosophy of mathematics. Seeing how that helped the students digest the material was very rewarding. I also learned alongside them, which was a source of joy.”

Originally from the Ivory Coast and coming to Queen’s from an undergraduate degree in mining engineering from Turkey, Noufou Traore particularly enjoyed TA’ing Queen’s Engineering first-years. “Many don’t know yet what area of engineering they will pursue,” he says. “It was very interesting to see the way they were involved in the online class, have fun while learning, participate in the tutorial sessions, and above all, stay motivated despite having their first year online.” He credits regular drop-ins as a way to stay in touch with upper-year students studying online, with time set aside to answer questions or fielding general inquiries about his specialty — mineral processing.

“I have been a TA since my third year of undergraduate studies, and always find I can take feedback from a prior year to add to what I do — sometimes, I think I am the one who learns the most from students’ questions,” says Keyvan Ferasat, originally from Iran. Now pursuing a PhD at Queen’s, he dealt with his major concern — lack of interaction over a remote school year — through smaller sessions. “We limited sessions to 10 students, which helped us maintain a friendly atmosphere and ensure we could focus on key learning outcomes. In courses with fewer TAs, breakout rooms would let the students work in groups of three or four, while TAs jumped to different rooms to help out.”

Among the innovative approaches to teaching was a GoPro-enabled civil engineering class, profiled earlier this year and co-run by Justine Abraham. A domestic student hailing from Peterborough, Ontario, Justine discovered that online classes changed the question/answer dynamic, in some ways for the better. “When you’re TA’ing in person, you walk to different groups to answer questions students may have. In the online format, all the students were able to hear all the questions and the answers. This left time for additional questions and further discussion which helped create a more complete understanding of the lab material for students,” she explains. The particularities of their lab — where one TA wore the camera, and the other facilitated the discussion – created a unique communication challenge as well. “Ensuring talking points were prepared in advance allowed the TA wearing the GoPro to point out important aspects of the physical groundwater model while the other TA was asking and/or answering the students’ questions,” she says.

This year Queen’s Engineering is proud to acknowledge the contributions of:


Chemical Engineering:

Qiujun (Abby) Liu

Amanda Rigg

Brianna Bradley

Yazan Bdour


Mining Engineering:

Alvaro Riquelme

Noufou Traore

Omid Marzoughi

Jinsong Xia


Electrical and Computer Engineering:

Bryony Schonewille

Yunshan (Richard) Yan

Sherif Azmy

Behzad Soleymani


Mechanical and Materials Engineering:

Aleksa Krstic

Keyvan Ferasat

Stephen Roper

Thomas Huckell


Civil Engineering:

Justine Abraham

Sarah Rodin

David Blair

Artur Sass Bragga