THE FUTURE’S SO BRIGHT, THEY GOTTA WEAR SHADES! AEW Facilitators Graduate after Teaching Through a Pandemic

At the close of the Spring 2021 semester we are saying so-long and good luck to 14 Academic Excellence Workshop (AEW) facilitators! These graduates hail from 8 different engineering programs and together they represent 70 semesters of teaching and 72 AEW workshops during their undergraduate careers.  It bears mentioning that all of these facilitators, whose education experience had been completely in-person, not only transitioned their learning to online due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but also very successfully transitioned their teaching to online for the past 3 semesters. We honor and share gratitude for each one of them and their work that was so clearly driven by passion and perseverance, to give back and support their Cornell Engineering community, during this difficult time!

Evan Austin Cornell Engineer grad 2021Evan Austin, Materials Science and Engineering graduate

Evan is a veteran AEW facilitator:

“Over my last 7 classes teaching (Math)1920, I have really come to appreciate and align with the ELI goals of promoting collaborative and active learning. The learning science research that goes into all the trainings and the AEW program are certainly not for nothing, I have seen the impacts first hand!

…The AEW program has been a source of light in my college career”.

In his last semester his students thanked him for “creating this fun and positive AEW environment!” and one mentioned the critical importance of having ‘Bob the Burrito’ included in the problem-based worksheets. And while we may never know the context in which ‘Bob’ entered the worksheets (some things are best kept secret!), we are indebted to Evan for his creative and open approach to his work and his teaching.  Evan awaits his assignment in the Peace Corps as an Agricultural Volunteer in Guatemala, continuing his legacy of building community and helping others.

Alexis Mottram, Chemical Engineering graduate

Alexis has honed her skills and supported her peers as a facilitator for 6 semesters!

“I have loved my time as an AEW facilitator, thanks so much to everyone in the program!”

This comment from a student expresses one of the super powers of peer education:

You make me feel valid for struggling and messing up because you don’t hide the fact that you know exactly how it feels. Your story of surviving STEM at Cornell and your moxie to be your true self no matter what make me believe that I can make it though another topic, another test, and another three years even when it seems a little daunting

Alexis will be starting work in an oncology research lab at Dana Farber Cancer Institute. We are so grateful for the dedication exemplified by Alexis!  We know this young professional has a bright future!

Apoorva Agarwal, Chemical Engineering graduate

Apoorva is another 6-semester facilitator. In addition to the work as a facilitator Apoorva has had a leadership role for the past 2 years as one of our AEW Co-leads.  In this important role she has collaborated to develop and lead trainings, collect and evaluate assessment data to improve the efficacy of the program, and supported new facilitators and others with independent conversations and meetings.

“I will miss the AEW program and my experience within it dearly and I hope to stay in touch after graduation. I wish nothing but the best for the future of AEWs and ELI in general. I know AEWs will continue to thrive and make an impact on countless students. Thank you so much!”

Her dedication, skills, and service to her team have been remarkable, and noted.   Well organized, hard working, dedicated and poised were just some of the words that were repeated by the other facilitators to describe this engineer’s leadership characteristics.

Her students shared these words of thanks:

“Your teaching was excellent, and I feel it greatly helped my performance in the class”. “You have been a great AEW facilitator and have really helped my understanding…”

Makaya Chilekwa, Chemical Engineering graduate

Yet another amazing 6-semester facilitator, Makaya is identified as an excellent facilitator by her students and her patient understanding and clear and concise approach will be missed!

“I greatly appreciate your help as an AEW facilitator, I feel like I have such a better understanding of the material and feel more confident in approaching problems and asking questions!!” “I think most of us felt like we had a guardian angel …”

Makaya will be honing her skills by taking a gap year working as a Research Assistant at MIT before going to grad school!

Michael Richardson, Engineering Physics graduate

“I’ve appreciated being a facilitator”.

Michael is another talented, constant, dependable 6-semester facilitator who will be missed for his sense of humor, easy goingMichael Richardson 6 semester facilitator graduate nature and really excellent skills for keeping his students engaged in the work at hand. Here is just some of what his students said:

“You are a wonderful facilitator, and your effort and enthusiasm shines through your words. I enjoy your jokes during the AEW, which always lights up the mood.” “…and don’t forget about how many kids you’ve helped!”

Michael Richardson Engineering Physics grad sp 2021“A great math teacher and mentor! I know you will do well in your career. You have mentored our AEW incredibly well and were always friendly and kind”



Michaela Bettez, Electrical and Computer Engineering graduate

Michaela, is also a veteran 6-semester facilitator who students appreciated for her mentorship as well as her ability to review and guide learning of complex material.  We are so grateful for her long dedication and commitment to the AEW Program!  Here is what her students had to say about her:

Michaela Bettez 6 semester AEW Facilitator“I was intimidated by taking an AEW at first but you made the class feel very welcoming and casual. I also really appreciate that you gave us tips for other classes.”

“Thanks Michaela! Your Math sessions have been very helpful, and manage to hold my attention even at night on a Monday!”

Michaela’s next step is enrolling in the MEng degree at Cornell, and then finding a job for the Spring!

Emily Care, Chemical Engineering graduate

Emily had a 5-semester run as a facilitator, and in addition to the work of facilitator, in her last year sheEmily Care 5 semester facilitator and Co-leader worked as the other Co-lead for the AEW team. We value her thoughtful sharing of ideas, collaboration on developing objectives aligned with AEW program goals, and willingness to evaluate program feedback and move us forward.  We are so grateful for her leadership and ability to grow and improve the program with Apoorva over the year. An excellent collaborative leader!

Of the many words to describe Emily’s style and strengths facilitators shared these: Caring, kind, strong, friendly, reliable, and organized

Her students shared these gratitudes: “You are an incredible facilitator and I have appreciated your AEW very very much!!”  and “I appreciate you always going above and beyond to help me and everyone understand the material 🙂.”

Emily will be moving to Tainan, Taiwan to work for TSMC (Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company) as a process engineer.

Jessica Chen, Computer Science graduate

Jessica also shared her skills and experience for 5 semesters.  We are so lucky that she used her time and talent to work and collaborate with us. Here we can see that her commitment to student learning involved building the community in which the climate was welcoming.  Her leadership skills shone through for the students she supported:

“I was able to laugh and enjoy connecting with others while gaining a much better understanding of difficult topics like recursion. Thank you so much for making the class so enjoyable and helpful. You are a wonderful leader.”

You really helped me combat my fear for coding :)”

Jessica will be working as a software engineer at PayPal in San Jose, California! And trying to spend as much time as possible with family and friends before she moves.

Lucy Huang, Chemical Engineering graduate

Another 5-semester facilitator, Lucy is known for her organization, and her clear written and spoken communications with her students. Thank you for your dedication and commitment to peer education and your students. Here is what they had to say:

Lucy Huang 5 semester facilitator“Thank you for being encouraging to everyone! Also, I liked the drawings you included in lecture”

“Thank you so much for being an AEW facilitator!”

Lucy will be moving on to a position as a Project and Improvement Development Engineer (PIDE) at Infinium in New Jersey!

Lynn Jeannoute, Chemical Engineering graduate

Lynn is another one of our strong Chemical Engineering representation who has taught for 5 semesters. She has collaborated to build community in our AEW facilitator team and strengthened the connections and served her students. Here is what her students have to say:

“Thank you for being an AEW facilitator. Learning this challenging material from a peer really helped my understanding”

We are so grateful for her dedication to this work and wish Lynn the very best in her future as a Chemical Engineering graduate!


Sijia Liu, Computer Science graduate

Sijia also worked with students and supported learning for 5 semesters. Colleagues observed that she and her cofacilitator fostered emotional connection with their students and often asked for feedback on what the facilitators should focus more on to make support stronger. Her students said:

“Your teaching was excellent, and I feel it greatly helped my performance in the class.”  and “Good at explaining the topics that are confusing”.

We join her students to show our deep appreciation for all she did for the students in her AEWs.

Veronica Nobrega, Chemical Engineering graduate

Veronica is another member of the large group of Chemical Engineering students who have a long history with facilitating AEWs.  It is a big commitment, and we are thankful for the time and effort she used to improve the learning experience of her peers. Her students sent her off with a big thanks!:

“Thank you for everything this semester!! Best of luck in the future!”

We join her students in wishing Veronica the best of all possible futures! Thank you!

Acacia Tam, Biomedical Engineering graduate

Acacia was with the program for 3 semesters as a facilitator and we only wish it could have been longer. This thoughtful peer educator was able to mix clear explanation and creative opportunities for her students to enjoy in her AEW sessions. Here is a strong tribute that exemplifies the feedback from  her students:

“Thank you for putting effort to clarify things, making them understandable and enjoyable as well! A teacher like you is the heart of the educational system! “You light up the way! You are appreciated!”

Acacia is planning on doing a summer internship in Singapore for a patent law firm and then going to Boston University for her masters degree!

Sophie Arzumanov, Operations Research and Information Engineering graduate

We only had Sophie on our team for 2 semester. We are lucky to have worked with her and only wish we had more opportunity to collaborate. Sophie exemplified the growth mindset as a facilitator. She tried new things and grew her natural skills as an educator in two short semesters. Her own words tell a great story:

“I enjoyed my interactions with AEW my facilitators so much that I decided to become a facilitator myself and give back to the program. It was through being an AEW facilitator that I discovered my love for teaching. I wish I had been a facilitator for longer! I encourage everyone to become a part of the AEW program, because no matter where you’re at with the material, it will benefit your learning and sense of belonging within Cornell Engineering.”

Sophie’s students also said these things about her work:

“It’s amazing how a facilitator can make all the difference between being completely lost in a course, and feeling that you have a solid grasp of the topic.” and “Sophie has been so kind and helpful and can make any topic easy to understand!”

Sophie will move on to be a Business Analyst at McKinsey & Company in Chicago!

Thankfully these long-term peer educators have left us with suggestions and thoughtful feedback as they move on to the world outside of Cornell.  We are excited for the new facilitators that will work with us and take the places of these amazing long-term peer educators, and we will miss their collective wealth of experience and knowledge. We know that we at ELI have benefitted from their involvement and only hope that the leadership skills they have gained as AEW facilitators will serve them will in their chosen professional futures.  Many Many thanks to all of them. May you take your skills and passion out into the world and make it a better place!

WISDOM FROM UNDERGRAD PEER EDUCATORS: Hard-won tips for online teaching

One and a half semesters of mostly online teaching down, and at least one more to go in this COVID-altered academic world. As a growing part of the team supporting student learning outcomes, undergraduate peer educators have worked very hard, received training, and honed their skills as facilitators of engaged, compassionate, and student-centered online learning.  EVERYONE has had to shimmy up the learning curve to make this last 9 months ‘work’.

At Cornell Engineering, our Academic Excellence Workshop (AEW) facilitators began their transition mid-spring semester when they were asked if they wanted to stay on as undergraduate educators and do their work in the online environment.  All 44 of them agreed that they wanted to stay on and help in the most difficult time one might imagine as a college student.  By the end of the spring semester 2020, these dedicated young educators had learned so much, faced challenges, and had made a difference for their peers!  By the end of Fall 2020, some with 2 semesters online facilitating and training under their belts and some with just one, they used the tools of this new trade – breakout rooms, whiteboards, annotations – to share their hard-won trusted tips.  This post will share their sage advice, simply copied from the whiteboard, collated and briefly annotated.

The most common bit of advice was about being comfortable saying “I DON’T KNOW”: 

The first rule of collaborative learning facilitation  – the teacher is not required to hold the answers to everything. As peer educators, knowing this allows the time to reach out to other teaching staff on matters of specific process or content. Even more importantly, and this takes some degree of confidence, not knowing the specific answer frees up space to develop ideas together, to involve the group, brainstorm processes and different possibilities with your students. And yes, ultimately we want to provide the right set of details, so a follow up with the group or class after consultation is always the way to end. In the online environment, an online discussion board is a great way to get that closure and feedback when the answers come after the synchronous session is over.

A close  second category of advice was related to CREATING a WELCOMING, OPEN and FRIENDLY ENVIRONMENT:

Peer educators, who have been on the other side of the screen more recently than some of the more experienced teaching staff, know exactly how crucial these bits of advice are! This is even more true in the online environment, where it is easier to be anonymous, harder to feel connected, and where students can be easily distracted away from what you are facilitating.

Learning student names, doing activities to get to know them and help them get to know each other, goes a long way to creating a space where they want to be, feel noticed, and hopefully begin to trust each other enough to be part of the discussions you want to facilitate! While it carries its own different set of challenges, one of the most powerful things about being a peer educator is that you are one of ‘them’. As such, you are approachable and, should be, compassionate.

A little note of self-care here:

Even though your energy goes a long way to creating a climate, ‘checking in’ includes you.  This whole time period is extremely energy demanding, and so while you try and bring your best game as a peer educator, give yourself an out when YOU need it.  Ask for help and think of ways to take the pressure off yourself as well.

The third most offered advice was about how to “WORK THE ROOM” in a zoom session:

In the online environment you can’t just look across the room and see who needs your help, or interject a helpful question or hint.  Being present and moving from breakout room to breakout room as students are working in groups, lets you intervene and redirect, or even invite others into the conversation. It goes without saying perhaps that these spaces have to be clearly structured before you move your students into them so they don’t spend time spinning their wheels!

Reminding about expectations for teamwork, taking turns to contribute, and the idea of ‘take time, make time’ just before sending your students off to breakouts is helpful. The online environment can create some useful anonymity for shy people (working through the chat and asynchronous discussions) but breakout rooms can be stressful for shy people and frustrating for all, if they are not structured.

A fourth bit of advice: Don’t assume your students are all on the same page and following everything you are facilitating.  GET FEEDBACK:

Just as improving learning outcomes requires giving students regular and honest feedback, so becoming a better peer educator (or any educator) requires getting feedback about how it is going for students.  Feedback can be general – about the perceived success of activities you try- and it can be more specific – about whether they understand what you are trying to get across to them. Feedback can be solicited in the middle of a class, at the end, or in the interim between when you see each other using online discussion boards.

Active learning strategies like ‘think-pair-share’ (using chat in a small class online) as well as polling or clicker questions, can be used at any moment to get students sharing and asking and answering each other’s questions. Asking students, in teams (breakouts), to apply a bit of lecture material to a problem or question helps the group move closer to the same level of understanding. They can also share group feedback afterwards.

Asking students, in teams (breakouts), to apply a bit of lecture material to a problem or question helps the group move closer to the same level of understanding. They can also share group feedback afterwards.

The 5th and last piece of advice from our experienced online peer educators (there is more…..) is FACILITATE COMMUNICATION and THINKING, DON’T JUST GIVE THE ANSWERS:

This is one that is at the crux of collaborative, student-centered learning. Being comfortable with silence is hard in the classroom, but at least you can watch to see if the wheels are spinning. Reading body language and facial expression is so challenging online, and if cameras are off, so are all bets.

But it is even more critical to be comfortable with silence with the lag time time that occurs on zoom, and with the difficulty of knowing whether students are thinking and preparing to answer. Give time for answers to come into the chat.  Give time for students to figure out the technology for how to annotate the whiteboard or your presentation when you ask.  In breakouts, really encourage cameras on (knowing there are legitimate reasons in some cases students aren’t comfortable with them on) so that you can make eye contact and have a better sense of the level of understanding, and so that you can support at the correct level (a question? a hint? maybe sometimes even the answer). If you end up giving the answer, ask them why the answer you give is the/a right one.

Remembering to enact this set of 5 tips in your classroom will take any educator a very long way to being successful in the online environment. Bravo peer educators, we could not do without you! And best of luck in Spring 2021!

A Peer Educator Reflects on Personal Decisions, Challenges and the Importance of Inclusivity in the Transition to Online Learning when COVID 19 Changed our Worlds

Graduating Engineering senior, Camelia Wu, considered her options when it was time to decide where to live after the Cornell Campus was closed due to COVID 19.  She chose to return home to New Jersey.  Though she lived off campus, and could decide to stay in Ithaca, she was without a vehicle, friends were all in isolation, and so she decided that the best option was working on her final college disciplinary work and on facilitating AEW workshops from her parents’ home. As we all did, college students had a lot to process very quickly.  When Camelia was asked via discussion thread to create an analogy about what it felt like, as an AEW Facilitator, to transition your workshop sessions to an online mode.  Here is what she wrote:

“(it was like)…when I first moved to the United States. After moving, I needed to get used to a new lifestyle with a different language, food selection, friend group with different backgrounds, and so on. I had to find a new flow in my social and general everyday life. It was kind of like how I used to have a good flow for how to conduct the AEW sessions in person, but had to find new online teaching tools to achieve a new flow in the virtual AEW sessions. Both involved a lot of flexibility, empathy for others, and curiosity to explore new things.”

Living at home, reconsidering everyone’s roles, thinking about internships that are likely to be substantially reduced or altered, if not completely cancelled, and considering job options as a graduating senior are a few other personal/professional concerns. These say nothing about the lost social aspects of college and being a senior: the celebrations, the kudos, the final presentations and the all-important ‘goodbyes’. Camelia shared some of her own sadness and how she attempted to cope with the abrupt nature of the transition:

“This fast transition made it kind of sad for me because I am a graduating senior, so it was disappointing to leave campus without being able to do everything that I had planned. I had been pushing off a lot of things, but I now regret that decision. It also cut short my time with my friends, some of whom I was not able to meet before leaving. Before I left, I decided to at least write a message, make a card, or leave something for my closest friends at Cornell to show them my appreciation and hopefully reminisce on some of the good memories…”

AEW facilitators have a rare opportunity to share thoughts about this emergency online transition to teaching and learning.  Facilitators are undergraduate students and experiencing their own course transitions, in addition they are peer educators struggling to stay positive, flexible and apply best practices for online learning in their AEW sessions. Camelia appreciated that students and instructors were respectful and used icebreakers that allowed students to share fun facts about themselves and their backgrounds. The game encouraged students to also be inclusive and find common ground.

As a student: she expressed thanks for her professors who were role models for the transition to online teaching practices.

“… It gave me a lot more respect for the professors who were trying to deal with this transition. In fact, some of my amazing professors were an example to me when I had to provide this transition for the AEWs…”
“ I felt that some of the professors were even sadder than we were for the missed class time and senior celebrations… they had to suddenly readjust the course to completely virtual classes. Overall, I appreciated their genuine effort and still learned a lot.”

As an AEW Facilitator: Learning the names of people in her AEW workshops, (and pronouncing them correctly) was a practice she used in her own peer education to make all feel included regardless of their different backgrounds. Camelia also shared other practices she and her co-facilitator, Matt Ziron, used to address engagement and create inclusivity in the new teaching venue:

“Being respectful and flexible to students who are under different time zones. For example, this may include using different contact methods, recording course material, or posting material in multiple places to make sure everyone has access.
“We sent out a few surveys and polls to find out best times, how to share the course material, deliver the lecture portion, and use Slack. The responses gave us a lot of direction for what to do.”
“… There was overall a very open and accepting environment and going online did not change that. One specific situation that Matt and I had to deal with was one overseas student with limited access and a different time zone. We tried to be flexible and discussed with her alternative ways to participate, recorded the lecture portions, and posted the AEW material in multiple places to make sure that she had the proper access. As a result, based on what she said in the email communication, she was able to stay updated”.

Finally, Camelia considered the occasional poor practices she experienced and why these actions make students feel uncomfortable and promote exclusion rather than inclusion. For instance, when students or the TAs are more familiar with one another and start going about some everyday conversation.

“inside jokes or personal conversations … may make other students feel left out or unhappy that it seems off topic. They are still important to address to build relationships with the students and help them on a more personal level, but it should not take class time from everyone else or suggest favoritism.”

As if there wasn’t enough work to do, Camelia and her peers on the eboard for a student organization called the Language Expansion Program decided to keep meeting to maintain that community for students who wanted to continue to share language learning.

“… I found these conversation hours very relaxing and enjoyed sharing jokes in different languages and fun facts about those languages. I think my zoom training as an AEW facilitator helped me learn how to better organize and set up these language meetings.”

Finishing her reflection on a happy note, this extra commitment turned out to be one of those personal social activities, albeit remote, that provided Camelia with some of what was lost when the physical community was no longer available on campus and she chose to head home to New Jersey. It eased the stress and feeling of disconnect from her home at Cornell.  This was, and is, a challenging time, and also one of immense growth, especially for graduating seniors who are both students and peer educators.  This resilient young professional learned how to negotiate new circumstances, to experience and facilitate inclusive learning in a new environment, and very successfully complete her college career. Congratulations Camelia, and thank you for your insights!



CELEBRATING OUR SENIORS: Academic Excellence Workshop (AEW) Facilitators are graduating and moving on! Best wishes and gratitude!

Each semester we have to say so long to some of our most experienced and cherished AEW facilitators.  This year, at a time when we cannot give the in-person recognition that they deserve, we celebrate eight Cornell Engineering seniors for the dedication, time and expertise that they have shared with peers in core engineering courses. We do this by sharing how much they have meant to the program, their students’ success, and by letting you hear a bit of their thoughtful voices. This group led the charge on transitioning to an online scenario using rapidly trained best practices for creating online engagement.  They continued to improve their practice throughout the semester, and students appreciated the effort! They have also inspired a new cohort of applicants to become Facilitators.  Each new applicant interviewed this spring mentioned that their experience as a student in an AEW, was invaluable and was what led them to want to apply and to give back to fellow students in the same way they were supported in their early semesters at Cornell. This was an incredibly challenging last semester to be an AEW Facilitator and these graduates and their peers succeeded with professionalism and poise.

Juan Berrio

One of our most experienced Facilitators, Juan has been with ELI for over 4 semesters, most recently facilitating a workshop for CS1112, Introduction to Computing Using Matlab. Additionally, he just completed his final semester as AEW Co-Lead, a position he has held for the past several semesters.  Co-leads collaborate on development and running in-semester training workshops, regular communication with Facilitators, organizing the process of Facilitator observations and much, much, more! Juan graduates with a degree in Mechanical Engineering and we will miss his passion for teaching and his great, dry sense of humor!

Student Gratitude for Juan:

“Thank you for helping me through the semester! Your humor and enthusiasm always made the class enjoyable and the content bearable. I wish you the best in the future!”

“Thank you for putting up with me and my questions…I’ve only known you for what, a semester? In that time, though, that’s the sense of self you gave off. Like you can do anything. … Good luck, and stay safe”

What Co-facilitator Emily Care learned from working with Juan: Reflection, May 2020- “Meeting in person to make lesson plans and worksheets. I was able to brainstorm ideas with Juan in real time and was also able to learn a lot about how he teaches and develops learning materials. I would not have been able to know him as well or work with him as well without meeting in person to talk”

Abby Swanson

Another one of our most experienced Facilitators, Abby has been with ELI for 5 semesters and graduates with a degree in Computer Science.  This past semester Abby facilitated not one but two sections of CS1110, Introduction to Computing Using Python, with different co-facilitators while completing her final academic semester! In the past, she also acted in a leadership role as co-lead.  Abby is cherished as a facilitator for her positive energy, patience and kindness, and going above and beyond to support her students’ learning! We will miss her incredible initiative and work ethic.

Student Gratitude for Abby:

“Abby is such a great facilitator!!! …. she’s so patient and teaches us the material. She puts in so much effort for us to succeed like giving us supplementary worksheet during our spring break. I wish her all the success after college and hope she knows what a great help she was to us” 

“Thanks so much for taking the time to host our CS 1110 workshop. You have really helped me a lot with python and have made the course much more enjoyable than stressful. Before the workshop started, I felt anxious about the course, but after meeting weekly with the group, it helped calm a lot of my nerves and taught me a lot. Thanks for always being so kind and upbeat. Good luck with everything you plan to do!”

“Thank you for being so patient and helpful. You always bring such positive energy to the class and it will always make my day a little better. Best luck with everything!”

Abby Kotwick

This Chemical Engineering graduate has facilitated AEWs for 3 semesters. This recent semester it was in ENGRD 2700, Engineering Probability and Statistics, with another one of our graduating seniors, Camilo Cedeno-Tobon.  Her students shared gratitude for her ability to help them develop strong understanding of the material. We will miss her hard work and great skills immensely!student peer educator

Student Gratitude for Abby

“It was a pleasure to have you as my facilitator not once, but twice. You’re so smart and helpful and there’s so much I wouldn’t know without your help. I remember you being in my AEW freshman year for diff eq and its crazy to think that 4 years flew …”

“Thank you for taking the time to help me out. It has massively impacted my understanding of the material and I’m grateful. Best of luck in your next adventure”!

Adam Wojciechowski

Adam, also a highly experienced facilitator, graduates with Electrical and Computer Engineering and Computer Science degrees. This past semester Adam Facilitated a deeper understanding for students in Math 2940, Linear Algebra. We will miss the incredible ability that Adam has demonstrated for helping students understand course concepts!

Student Gratitude for Adam:

“You’re the reason that I’m learning in this class. … you are the reason why I truly understand the core concepts of Linear Algebra. I can’t thank you enough for the immense value you’ve brought to my college education.”

“Adam thank you so much for being an amazing 2940 AEW facilitator this semester. Your teachings are so clear. When you explain things, they make more sense than they did before. I hope you have a good career and good luck with your future endeavors.”

 Andrew Xu

Andrew has been another long-term facilitator, most recently working to support students in Math 1920, Multivariable Calculus for Engineers. Graduating with a degree in Computer Science, this committed, patient, and dedicated facilitator will be missed for his excellent understanding, and ready support for engineering peers. Thank you for the difference you made to your students and to the AEW Program!

Student Gratitude for Andrew:

“You answered every question with great wisdom!”

“Thanks for your time and patience Andrew! You were super helpful this semester!”

“Good luck in the future Andrew!! Wishing you the best”.

Camelia Wu

We are lucky to have had Camelia as a facilitator for 2 semesters before she graduates this spring with a degree in Chemical Engineering. This past semester she worked with students to deepen their understanding of Math 2930, Differential Equations for Engineers.  Her students’ responses speak to her value in the program. We are glad to have had you with us for these 2 semesters!

Student Gratitude for Camelia:

“Thank you for being an awesome facilitator. You always took the time to explain concepts step by step, and knew how to try a different method when something wasn’t working. Wishing you luck! “

 “Thanks so much for all the help this semester! Your help and explanations really made a difference in how much I got out of the class, and the AEW was a bright spot during the week!”

Here is one main take-away Camelia shared from being an AEW facilitator:  “… communication, interpersonal skills, and public speaking. Running a good class is not just about knowing the material, but making it fun, engaging, and clear for the students. It is about taking in their perspectives and interests and doing what is more helpful for them even though it might not be most convenient for me…”

Sheetal Athrey

Graduating in Computer science after 5 semesters of facilitation, most recently CS 2110, Object-Oriented Programming and Data Structures, Sheetal’s students note her approach-ability and clear way of helping students understand the course material. We will miss the positive, friendly attitude and welcoming classroom environment Sheetal maintained while working with her students and becoming an amazing facilitator.

Student Gratitude for Sheetal:

“Thank you so much for all your hard work in teaching CS 2110 AEW this semester!! You helped me so much in learning the material and I don’t think I would have done as well if I hadn’t taken the AEW. Best of luck in your future endeavors. Congrats on graduating “

“Thank you for being an awesome facilitator! You had very clear explanations and were always super friendly!”

 Sheetal shared some of what the AEW Program has meant to her:  “I’ve grown to understand not just how to teach, but how to understand the different ways people learn and conceptualize material…(its also about) creating an environment in the classroom where everybody thrives…These 5 semesters have helped me grow as a mentor and is an experience that shaped my Cornell life. It has taught me things that will stick with me as I start my career. ”

 Camilo Cedeno-Tobon

Camilo has facilitated AEW sessions for 3 semesters. This spring he co-facilitated ENGRD 2700 Engineering Probability and Statistics with another graduating senior, Abby Kotwick. We will miss Camilo’s easy smile, obvious professionalism, and dedication to the students he has helped to succeed!

Student Gratitude for Camilo:

“Thanks for always being so helpful and patient. I feel so lucky to have you as my TA first semester in college and this year for AEW. Best luck with everything.”

“Camilooooo! I really don’t know where I would be without your intelligence and selflessness. Thank you for taking extra time to help me with material even if it was 10 pm on a Thursday night lol. Your efforts never went unnoticed! You and Abby are such a great AEW duo (the best I’ve had for sure) and I enjoyed all my time with you guys. Can’t wait to see what you accomplish after December and congrats on all your success!”

“I really appreciate the effort you put in to make sure we all engaged with the material. It has been extremely helpful to me. Congrats and best of luck post-graduation!”

Camilo shared some aspects that he valued in the face-to-face and online teaching and learning environment :(Face-to-face) “Being able to have the students sit in groups at a table and work on problems together. That is not possible online. I feel like the environment makes a huge difference in how students engage with each other.”

(Online victory)” Being able to screen share my iPad and write on the lecture slides was very useful. Writing on an iPad can be very clean, so I think it is a good way to lecture!”



For sticking it out with us and supporting your peers’ learning at a difficult time. Spring semester 2020 was time when your skills were most needed and also a time when you were working with your own transition to online learning as Seniors finishing your degrees! We are so proud of what you were able to accomplish and we wish you the very best in your next endeavors. The world is in need of some great new leaders. All the best, and please keep in touch!

Putting the ‘Jigsaw’ Online: AEW facilitators implement the jigsaw on Zoom, create collaboration, and share ideas for adaptations

Practitioners of student-centered learning will be familiar with the ‘jigsaw’. Jigsaws combine powerful collaborative strategies to increase retention and encourage construction of processes and concepts through critical thinking: 1) focused group discussion, and 2) teaching others. In the face-to-face environment, groups of 3 to 5 work together to solve a problem, explain a concept, or explore some idea or theory – together.

After the group (Expert group) has come to conclusions regarding the problem at hand, the groups are re-organized into mixed groups (Sharing group) – one member of each of the original groups, now work together.  These new mixed groups are tasked with explaining their definition or solution to the rest of the group – effectively teaching the members of the mixed group. The jigsaw works well with groups between 9 and 25 but can be adapted in many ways to accommodate larger classes.

As Cornell University transitioned to emergency remote teaching, AEW facilitators immediately began training to continue supporting engineering student-learning in weekly student-centered online sessions. Emily Care and Juan Berrio, a pair of co-facilitators for CS 1112, decided they wanted to attempt this valuable teaching strategy to create engagement in their synchronous Zoom session. Here’s how they did it.

Creating a Jigsaw in Breakout Rooms:

This scenario was developed for 2 weekly synchronous zoom meetings, rather than one, in order to accommodate different schedules of students now working online.

  1. We briefly explained that students in the synchronous zoom would be placed in breakout room groups to create a solution and then split up into new groups to explain their solution.
  2. We then randomized the breakout rooms into groups of 2-3 students and told each group their assigned question.
  3. We gave them 30 minutes to prepare their solution, check it with us, and work on other questions.
  4. After the 30 minutes, we reshuffled the breakout rooms and let the students present to each other.

***The facilitators were clear to note that leaders must be very active in visiting the breakout rooms on zoom while groups are working to be sure they are on the right track, without giving answers away.

               “The online jigsaw seemed to work well! All the students were able to have the solutions presented to them from different perspectives, to hear different voices, and to work with around 3 more students than they typically would have the opportunity to. They were also more thorough with the solutions they came up with since they knew they were responsible for the learning of their peers”.  Emily Care, AEW Facilitator

Jigsaw Adaptations: The following recommendations come from an asynchronous discussion thread among AEW Facilitators in which they discussed different adaptations to improve jigsaw success for other course materials, other course online structure, and different numbers of students in class:

  • Within each group, we would randomly assign a conversation leader to share a white board screen to encourage all to participate. While checking over the solutions of each group we would also ask some students to explain their reasoning to ensure all members understand the material.
  • … But we would probably have to send the questions out during one of the Slack sessions before the zoom so that the students have a chance to work on them a little beforehand, since our zoom sessions are only one hour a week.
  • …After the jigsaw groups had been redistributed, we could ask the members of each group leading questions concerning the concepts involved in the problem, to ensure every person in each group gets the information to solve future questions.
  • … A good way to use jigsaw would be to use it for conceptual problems and not calculation-heavy ones, since students generally struggle more with concept application and not flushed-out calculations in our class.
  • … Only having one zoom meeting per week, we would have to make sure that the problem was both in-depth enough to have students increase their understanding, but also short enough to be able to do in a manner where students feel confident in their own abilities to present the material.
  • Encourage the students to use canvas examples or the textbook to help them solve the questions. Then check in with each group, shuffle the groups, and have the students teach others about their solution.

Taking the next step: Following the synchronous Jigsaw with a concept map or an asynchronous discussion thread.

  • Jigsaws can be followed by ‘concept mapping’ activities to bring all the different concepts and ideas back together into a framework, or if the work is problem-solving, then concept maps can bring problems and related series together.

  • They can also be used to develop a challenge activity or problem that can be posted on an asynchronous discussion thread. This would allow students to continue to engage while they’re not online together, and to answer each other’s questions.
  • In discussion threads it is critical that the facilitator is present, ‘listening’, and providing feedback and encouragement (not answers or solutions). After the discussion has run its course, clarifying the answer, approach and structure is important so that everybody knows they’re on the right track.
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Peer Educators Respond to COVID 19: AEWs are Online!

Behind the BIG screens, the LITTLE screen:  Undergrads supporting undergrads in online Engineering courses

We have been thrown into an unprecedented experiment in education. We have embarked on what Hodges et al. (2020) call Emergency Remote Teaching (ERT).  There are differences between intentional online teaching/learning and ERT; they have to do with the time available to develop the ‘ecosystem’ that scaffolds learning in the online environment. But what we know is, despite the time crunch of this emergency transition, we will work together using all the best choices of tools and practices for quality instruction.

On the BIG screen in the College of Engineering, herculean efforts have been and are still being made to share the excellent Cornell Center for Teaching Innovation (CTI) materials, and to develop additional engineering-targeted webinars and materials, to prepare faculty to deliver content and engage students online in regular courses.  ELI is collaborating to provide technical, pedagogical and emotional support alongside the office of the Dean, Associate Deans, and other Student Services Program Administrators.  Gratitude, understanding, optimism and patience are the themes for this new and unanticipated shift in how we support engineering education in the College of Engineering.

Behind the scenes, on the SMALL screen, 42 Engineering undergraduate students, scattered to the global winds, began their training and creative initiatives to transition Academic Excellence Workshops (AEWs) into an online mode. AEWs are typically 1 credit, 2 hour per week face-to-face courses facilitated by exemplary undergraduates interested in teaching and learning and in the success of their peers.

This year’s AEW co-lead facilitators, Apoorva Agarwal and Juan Berrio, led the charge, brainstorming with ELI staff about the best and most familiar technologies for students to communicate; ways to surmount the time zone challenges for their international peers; and initiating the development of a ‘Survival Manual’ with new configurations for AEW sessions designed to effectively reach and respond to their students remotely.

Using a combination of synchronous Zoom sessions filled with active chats, polling, breakout rooms, and asynchronous Slack discussion boards, these aspiring engineers are continuing, online, to excel at providing what their peers often say is one of the most effective support services in their Cornell COE education. Examples of creative education practices linking synchronous and asynchronous environments through posted challenge questions after live sessions, humor for stress relief, compassion for students in different time-zones, and encouraging feedback and flexibility abound in the ether that is, for now, the new normal. Kudos AEW facilitators!!