The University of Texas at Dallas

Erik Jonsson School of Engineering and Computer Science


Jonsson School TA Orientation Inspires, Provides Resources

Jonsson School TA Orientation Inspires,
Provides Resources

Some of the more than 130 people, mostly graduate students, who attended the orientation.

The Jonsson School orientation for graduate students who are teaching assistants was held a couple of days after in-person commencement ceremonies.

Commencement was refreshing, energizing and an occasion that you could look forward to,” Dr. Stephanie G. Adams, Jonsson School dean, professor of systems engineering and holder of the Lars Magnus Ericsson Chair in Electrical Engineering, told the audience. “It doesn’t get old to hear that ‘Dr.’ in your name. PhD students, we want to give you consistent information and expectations to get your academic year off on a good start, and master’s students, we want to convince you that you should stay and get your PhD so one day we can call you Dr. Yang, Dr. Devi, Dr. Rodriguez or Dr. Smith.”

Nearly 130 students attended the virtual TA orientation held in mid-August 2021 at which students heard a brief history of The University of Texas at Dallas and the Erik Jonsson School of Engineering and Computer Science before Jonsson School leaders shared expectations and tips on how to be successful TAs.

“First thing, I would like to congratulate you because getting a teaching assistantship in our school is an extremely competitive endeavor, and you should applaud yourself,” said Dr. Poras T. Balsara, associate dean for academic affairs in the school. “Having said that, we take TA duties extremely seriously. TAs are evaluated every semester, and the feedback we receive from the faculty members you are assisting will decide if your assistantship gets renewed.”

Balsara and Dr. Amy Walker, associate dean for undergraduate education in the Jonsson School, shared expectations of the position such as holding office hours and helping students learn solutions versus giving answers; the importance of the TA role to the students they are helping teach, to the University and in accreditation; standards regarding academy integrity and data security and privacy and the opportunity to learn how to teach through certificate programs offered through the UT Dallas Center for Teaching and Learning.

Allan Mathew, pictured left, is the new assistant dean dedicated to graduate student issues. Also pictured are Dr. Amy Walker (top right), associate dean for undergraduate education, and Dr. Poras T. Balsara, associate dean for academic affairs (bottom right).

Leaders stressed the importance of remembering that they are students also and to think about that when teaching classes. For example, they said, imagine how frustrating you would feel if an instructor did not respond to emails did or not have office hours at different times from the instructor.

“Don’t be afraid to make mistakes,” Walker said. “Students will forgive any mistakes you make if you are kind, gracious, happy and smile; if you are willing to help, all will be fine.”

TAs have to be on guard to not act in ways of bias toward anyone, leaders said.

“Remember that we are a very international, very diverse campus community, and the demographics of students in your classes in terms of race, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation or class may be very different from what you are used to,” Walker said. “It’s a learning experience for all of us.”

A new resource this year for TAs and all graduate students is Allan Mathew, assistant dean for graduate student enhancement for the Jonsson School.

For issues that arise concerning academic matters, students should first talk with their professor, then the graduate program head or the head of the department. After that, if the class is for undergraduate students, then contact Walker, or if for graduate students, contact Balsara. For non-academic matters, or academic matters that a person is not comfortable speaking with a faculty member about, Mathew is available.

“Allan Mathew is a neutral person,” Balsara said. “He is not a faculty member and also serves as an ombudsman for graduate students to help find solutions to diffuse a situation.”

Mathew spoke to the group about opportunities for involvement in graduate student assemblies, and his open-door policy: he is available through email, chat or stopping by his office on the fourth floor of Engineering and Computer Science West (ECSW).

“I’m also fun, so please reach out to chat,” he said.

The TA orientation is one of several efforts to support graduate students throughout the school year. Dean Adams will also host at least one town hall a semester; student experience surveys will be distributed and graduate events planned.

The TA orientation was held the same week as the inaugural Jonsson School new faculty orientation.

Teaching Resources +

UT Dallas Center for Teaching and Learning

Graduate Teaching Certificate Interest Form

Jonsson School Assistant Dean for Graduate Student Enhancement +

Allan Mathew
ECSW 4.110N

Departmental Graduate Program Leaders +


Dr. Stuart Cogan

Dr. Betsy Willis

Computer Science

Shyam Karrah

Electrical and Computer Engineering

Dr. Jeong-Bong (JB) Lee

Materials Science and Engineering

Dr. Lev Gelb

Mechanical Engineering

Dong Qian

Systems Engineering

Stephen Yurkovich

Brenda Rains