SPPD Doctoral Student Wins USC Teaching Assistant Award
By Ben Dimapindan
USC School of Policy, Planning, and Development Ph.D. student Meredith Drake Reitan was recently honored with the University Outstanding Teaching Assistant Award, presented by the USC Center for Excellence in Teaching.
Drake Reitan received the award at the Academic Honors Convocation on April 26.
The Outstanding Teaching Assistant Award – presented to graduate students who have exhibited consistent excellence in the classroom – symbolizes USC’s dedication to the education of scholars and teachers. It also recognizes the significant role that teaching plays in the university’s mission.
Candidates were nominated by departments from across the university, and Drake Reitan was one of only three winners selected.
Since Fall 2006, Drake Reitan has served as a teaching assistant or lecturer for numerous SPPD undergraduate and masters-level courses, including: Urban Context for Policy and Planning; Third World Cities; Comparative International Development; and the international planning studio in Ravenna, Italy.
In each class she assists, Drake Reitan said her first aim is “to help students develop the knowledge and skills that will be essential to their future career and life goals.” In addition, she also wants to help them “see the connections between theory and their everyday lives.”
“In many respects, education should be about self-discovery. An important component of any course is the opportunity to identify one’s values and to place these values in a larger cultural or historical context,” she said. “Yet, it is equally important to learn how to respectfully interact with those who may hold different values. An interesting, well-run class where many different views can be exchanged and comfortably debated is my ideal.”
Drake Reitan explained that her overall approach to teaching is “very much about experiential learning.”
“I do a lot of role plays and ask students to teach each other in different ways,” she added. “For example, in the Third World Cities course, I specifically included in-class exercises that asked students to apply what they had learned in assigned readings to ‘real-world’ situations. I believe that these activities encourage productive group work.”
Many of the students in her class seemed to agree.
Professor Dowell Myers, for whom Drake Reitan has served as a teaching assistant, noted in his award nomination letter that, “students have commented on her knowledge of the field, her ability to blend theory and practice, and the careful way that she encourages class participants to develop their own informed perspectives on the world.”
After graduating, Drake Reitan said she hopes to work in academia and continue teaching.
“Having so many opportunities over the last few years to teach, and in such different classes, has been a really important part of my time at SPPD,” she said. “Working with different professors allows you to see a diversity of teaching styles and methods. It helps in the process of honing your own approach to teaching.”