Sunday, January 19

Students set to teach in spring

New undergraduate-led seminars offer unique learning opportunities to both facilitators, peers

In spring quarter, a new set of seminars will give UCLA students
the opportunity to study everything from peak oil to 1980s pop

But instead of being taught by professors, students in these
seminars will be taught by their peers.

The seminars are the product of the new Undergraduate Student
Initiated Education program, which allows student facilitators to
teach one-unit seminars on topics of their choice.

Michelle Sassounian, the third-year political science and
philosophy student who created the program at UCLA, said she based
it on UC Berkeley’s DeCal program, which has been around for
25 years and now includes 120 courses taught by more than 250
student facilitators.

“I thought it was pretty ridiculous that Berkeley had a
program like this and we didn’t,” said Sassounian, the
Academic Affairs commissioner for the Undergraduate Students
Association Council.

Sassounian has been working on implementing the program at UCLA
for over two years, and this year it was approved for a two-year
pilot period.

As the first day of class draws nearer, fourth-year English
student Aaron Fai said he is not too worried about teaching a
seminar next quarter. His is titled “American Short Story
Today” and will deal with stories written in recent

“I feel very prepared as far as what I’m going to do
with the class,” he said. “But I think everyone’s
worried about enrollment and whether there will be students there
on the first day of class to teach.”

Students will not be able to sign up for the seminars until
after spring break. In the meantime, the facilitators will be
holding a publicity fair for their seminars on March 7, from 11
a.m. to 2 p.m. in Bruin Plaza.

Sassounian emphasized the importance of enrollment to the
program’s future.

“If the seminars are well-attended, that sends the message
that the students are ready for a program like this,” she

According to the UCLA College Web site, student facilitators
must be juniors or seniors with a declared major. Only freshmen and
sophomores may enroll in the seminars, and students may only enroll
in one student-led seminar during their career at UCLA.

Fai said he is looking forward to participating in the

“It’s neat just to be a part of the pilot
program,” he said. “It’s nice to give a little
back to UCLA.”

Fai, who plans to spend next year teaching English in Kyrgyzstan
as part of the Peace Corps, also said he thinks teaching a seminar
will provide valuable career experience.

“It will definitely be good practice in handling
curriculum and planning classes,” he said.

Academic Senate Chairwoman Adrienne Lavine said she thinks the
program will be beneficial to both the students in the seminars and
the facilitators themselves.

“The facilitators will benefit tremendously because when
you teach something, that’s when you really learn it,”
she said. “The students in the class might benefit from the
freshness and enthusiasm a student facilitator will

Student facilitators have already had some practice in classroom
planning and leadership. When they applied for the program in fall
quarter, they were required to submit a general plan of their
proposed seminar, and to find a faculty member to sponsor and
advise them.

The 16 students who were selected to be facilitators were
required to enroll in a pedagogy course during winter quarter to
prepare them for teaching.

“It was pretty extensive,” Fai said of the course.
“Students should be confident that the facilitators are
really well-trained. (In the pedagogy course) we’ve tried to
find out what works in a university setting. We’ve talked
about what we’ve enjoyed in seminars and tried to cull the
best parts of that.”

Sassounian said facilitators were encouraged to work with their
faculty sponsors to create a more effective course. However, some
students had trouble finding faculty members who were willing to
sponsor them.

“It’s not the easiest thing to get a faculty member
to put their support behind something that they don’t have
complete control over,” Sassounian said.

Lavine said that while she did not have any reservations about
the program, she understood the faculty members’ concern.

“The faculty might be hesitant just in that they have to
devote some time to the student facilitators,” she said.

Fai said he thought facilitators who already had established
relationships with professors had an easier time finding a faculty
sponsor. Fai enlisted one of his thesis advisers, English Professor
Stephen Dickey, to sponsor his seminar.

The Academic Affairs Commission also helped put student
facilitators in contact with possible faculty sponsors.

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