Classroom learning: Insights from teaching award recipient

Tony Yang, Killam Graduate Teaching Assistant Award recipient

Classroom learning: Insights from teaching award recipient

Tony Yang, a master’s student in Human Nutrition, was awarded the Faculty’s 2023 Killam Graduate Teaching Assistant Award to recognize his exceptional work enhancing student learning.

Throughout his master’s degree, Yang supported multiple LFS undergraduate courses, including FNH 160 (Integrated Physiology for Human Nutrition I), FNH 350 (Fundamentals of Nutrition), and FNH 477 (Nutrition and Disease Prevention).

By creating a welcoming and inclusive classroom environment, Yang helped students feel free to collaborate and learn. He encouraged students to explore their own interests, and tried to cater to each student’s individual needs and learning styles.

“When students were having difficulty grasping a concept, I treated them the way I would want to be treated if I were in their position,” Yang says. He tried to avoid just directly providing the correct answer to students if they got something wrong.

“The most rewarding part was during mid-term viewing sessions. When I saw a student struggling to grasp a concept, we would walk through their logic, and from there we’d identify where the logic didn’t connect. I tried not to give answers right away.

It’s important that students reach an answer using their own understanding. They’ll be able to recall it later better because they found it on their own terms.”

Yang finished his undergraduate studies in 2020 (BSc FNH) and was heavily involved in the LFS community during those years. He speaks fondly of his time at Agora Café where he made several friends with the other volunteers. He said it was a good learning experience managing the café and working as the catering manager who oversaw external orders.

It was in a third-year class that he discovered Dr. Barbara Stefanska’s research on molecular nutrition and cancer, specifically nutritional epigenomics. He was excited by Dr. Stefanska’s research and asked to volunteer in her lab, then decided to pursue a master’s degree to study human nutrition under her supervision. He recently completed his master’s thesis investigating pterostilbene, a compound found abundantly in blueberries, and its anti-cancer effects in liver cancer cells.

Yang also learned some things about himself during his time as a teaching assistant with his biggest takeaway being the realization that he truly enjoyed teaching – maybe even a little more than research: “I get more fulfillment interacting with students than looking at my machines and test tubes all day!”

This leads to a perfect next step for Yang – following graduation, he will be joining Capilano University as an Instructor for an Introductory Nutrition course.

Yang’s advice to students:
Follow the learning objectives and treat them as their own exam questions. Also, don’t cram in your studies: study consistently throughout the term in shorter study blocks, frequently test your knowledge, and most importantly – remember to take breaks!