Two science students recognized for exceptional teaching

Wednesday, April 20, 2022

Urja Nandivada and Justin Shmordok
The Amit & Meena Chakma Awards for Exceptional Teaching by a Student recognize up to four students from across the University of Waterloo for excellence in teaching of all kinds (e.g., teaching assistant, laboratory demonstrator, sessional lecturer) by registered students.

This year, two of the four winners were from the Faculty of Science.

Urja Nandivada, Physics and Astronomy

Urja Nandivada, an undergraduate student in Physics and Astronomy, provided students with an impactful experience as an undergraduate TA. She has been described as a mentor who is passionate about her teaching, and who has not let chronic illness affect her performance in teaching and her attitude towards students. Urja makes the classroom environment feel welcoming, inclusive, and comfortable for students to learn new concepts. She has a positive attitude towards student development, and she tends to assist learners in understanding the process of arriving at answers rather than providing them on the spot. One student states that “her knowledge in the field helps the students prosper when doubts arise in the lab.” Another student says, “Urja gave us words of encouragement to keep going and not give up.” Urja makes lab experiences enjoyable and engaging: “I remember one 9:30am lab session on a Friday, Urja had her camera on, smiling, and she was engaging in the conversation.”  Overall, her outgoing, sociable personality is a memorable one for all students who encounter her.

Urja has held a teaching assistant position for PHYS 121LPHYS 131L, and PHYS 122L.

Justin Shmordok, Chemistry

Justin Shmordok, a PhD student in Chemistry, has been described as an enthusiastic and thoughtful developer of educational content. He has been known to create an inviting and fun environment for students to develop their ideas, and has also been described as, “delicate in his pedagogical approach to answering questions.” Justin has worked with many types of undergraduate students as a teaching assistant for many courses, served as a supervisor for 4th year research projects, and has supervised co-op students and volunteers in research laboratories. Throughout these roles, he has thrived as a mentor through being patient with students’ academic development, while continuing to challenge them. As one student notes, “Justin treats his students just as they are” to explain his capacity for treating students as both adults and young learners: “Justin finds that balance by validating our struggles, personally and academically, while still creating an environment where he challenges us to do our best.”

He has held a teaching assistant position for CHEM 250LCHEM 212, and a graduate lab supervisor for CHEM 494 (a research project laboratory course).

Congratulations to Urja and Justin!