As a Teaching Assistant in American University’s School of Public Affairs Leadership Program for nine undergraduate students I learned how to help each student overcome obstacles in their social action projects. I met with them weekly to discuss the progress of their social action projects, guided them to relevant resources, and ensured they were engaged with the program’s curriculum and events. Social action projects are projects that students develop throughout the year on social justice issues of their choosing which can range from LGBTQ+ issues, criminal justice reform, climate change, mental health, or advancing the rights of the Deaf community. Students research the issue extensively and determine what is missing from the research and programs out there and try to fill that gap.
It’s hard to motivate students to try to create a project that will make a difference in a topic that our policymakers can’t even come to agreement on. However, as a TA you want them to learn about themselves and how they can overcome the adversity and obstacles when faced with them. That is a moment where as a TA, I can help them think creatively and critically on how to solve these problems. For the majority of these students, they want to focus their careers on these issues and evidently they will be faced with similar if not bigger issues.
The best part of this position was witnessing my students implement and complete their own project – seeing from the moment they choose an issue, research it, and write a policy memo to a project description and finally witnessing the end project gives you hope that students can make a difference. I loved seeing my students grow throughout the year because they worked so hard and they learned new things about themselves. It was not uncommon for student’s project to fall through or run into all types of obstacles. However, that’s why TA’s are there to support and guide students and to let them know that their hard work will pay off. Sophomore year in the Leadership Program can be the most transformative for students because you have created a whole project by yourself and perhaps learned what your passion is or what it isn’t. I learned so much my sophomore year and I was grateful to be part of this process for my students.