Above and Beyond — Md Safwan Ahsanullah

May 12, 2021

In spring of 2020, Safwah Ahsanullah started his third year teaching in the water resources lab and he has taken on a real leadership roll over the past two years. This has involved training the new GTA’s who are just starting in the lab and in managing the collection and grading of lab reports.

However, it is Safwan’s response to the COVID shutdown where he really went above and beyond. Particular things Safwan did in response to the pandemic include:

1. Aggregation of sample lab data for students unable to attend: Last March when we had to shut down the lab on very short notice Safwan took on the job of going over lab reports from previous semesters to generate sample lab data for the four labs that we were no longer going to do in person. The week before the shutdown we ran data collection for 3 of the 4 remaining labs however, not everyone was able to attend. Though the sample lab data was only used by a handful of students, it was invaluable to them and made the stressful adjustment to online learning a lot easier.

2. Recording of explanatory videos to assist students as they wrote up their lab reports: During regular lab sessions the students would collect data and then return to a classroom where the TAs would help them write up their reports. After the shutdown Safwan realized that the students would really benefit from videos posted on Canvas that explained some of the key calculations. Safwan pointed this out to me and then took responsibility for recording the majority of these videos. He also coordinated with the other TAs to record the remaining videos. All this was done while Safwan was having to adjust to his own classes being moved online.

3. Work over the summer in preparation for the fall: Over the summer we had to do a lot of work in preparation for having to offer the lab fully online option for those students who chose that format. Again Safwan stepped up and recorded introductory videos for the labs and calculation videos for the labs not covered by his work at the end of the Spring semester. This was a substantial undertaking out of his regular teaching semesters. He also went back and collected and collated a full set of sample lab data so that online students had everything they needed for the lab. I had multiple students tell me how much they appreciated all the resources that Safwan helped develop and how smoothly the lab class went.

4. Last minute grading support: With COVID causing a lot of disruptions to students schedules we ended up accepting a number of late lab reports. This led to a crunch at the end of the semester where lab reports had to be graded on very short notice. As lead TA Safwan took on the role of coordinating this grading. He was incredibly responsive often taking on grading lab reports he was not assigned to get them back quickly so that students knew what their grade in the class was before exam week. All this was done as Safwan was finalizing his M.Sc. Thesis, finishing his own course work, and preparing for his own exams.

The work Safwan did over the summer and fall has hugely benefitted the fluids lab this spring. I have shared the entire canvas course that Safwan helped build with Nasim who is teaching the class this semester. He was very impressed with it when I demonstrated the course at the start of this semester. Safwan’s work will also help us weather the budget cuts. The drop in GTA support will increase the volume of grading that GTAs need to do. The videos and data Safwan developed will provide resources to our students that will limit the need for TA support outside of regular lab time freeing them up to spend time on the increased grading load.

Safwan consistently goes above and beyond in his role as a lab GTA. However, his response to the pandemic has been truly exceptional. On multiple occasions Safwan has taken the initiative and worked to make the lab a more manageable experience for our undergraduate students during these most difficult of years.