Christine Kassab puts focus on the teaching of Geology

Kassab
EAPS Ph.D. student Christine Kassab in the Geology lab.

As a graduate student and new Ph.D. candidate in the Geology program, Christine Kassab knows there is a balance between research and teaching.

The Lancaster County, Penn., product first got a taste for teaching as teaching assistant during her environmental geology studies at Bucknell University. At Purdue, her first teaching assignments came in atmospheric science classes but soon, she switched to teaching Physical Geology while overseeing the Geology lab in the Civil Engineering Building.

In April, Kassab was one of four winners of Graduate School Excellence in Teaching Awards across campus. She was the only College of Science student to receive the award.

As Kassab continues to maintain the balance between research and teaching, the scales are tipping toward the education of young minds. 

“My career goal is to eventually teach at a teaching college,” she said. “I do enjoy research but my passion is the teaching aspect and watching students learn. I love seeing the light bulb go off in their heads when they finally get something and put two and two together. … That’s what got me into teaching. The more I do it, the more I enjoy it and the more passionate about it I am.”

Question: How does it feel to get the Excellence in Teaching Award?

Answer: It was a surprise, I guess. It felt weird at the award ceremony because the other awardees were fourth- or fifth-year Ph.D. students, and I’m a first-year. But I had the advantage of doing my masters here so I got the necessary teaching prior to starting my Ph.D. Everyone was talking about finishing up and I was “Yep, I’m just starting.”

Q: What are some of your duties as the Geology lab coordinator?

A: I oversee the (six) TA’s in addition to setting up labs.

Q: Teaching classes outside of your field must have been challenging for you. What was it like teaching those Atmospheric Science classes?

A: It was definitely very challenging. I had to check out a number of atmospheric science books from the library in order to stay ahead of students. There were a couple lab sections so I went to another student’s lab section to see what she taught and took notes so I knew what needed to be covered. That was a lot of prep work for me for that class but it went over OK.

Q: What is it like now for you to teach in your own field?

A: I love it. I’ve taught it for three semesters and I’ve been lab coordinator for two. I know I’ve grown in how to explain things. The labs stay the same from year to year. As I get more familiar, I can explain things better and come up with different analogies when students ask questions. The first time I taught this class, I was teaching for the College of Technology’s extension campus at SIA. I actually went out there, took out all of the equipment out there and taught six students.

Q: What was that like, teaching off-campus?

A: I had two non-traditional students. … The two-older gentlemen I taught were definitely more invested in the class than the other four students. It was fun to see their questions. One was very inquisitive who kept asking me questions and delving deeper into stuff. That was a lot of fun.

Q: What are some teaching methods that you have developed?

A: In terms of teaching methods, I am more question-based. If a student asks a question, I ask them a question to help guide them towards the answer. I try to be as interactive as possible. With these labs, we give a 10 to 15 minute lecture, and I try to open it up to get them to explain it back to me to see what they understand and what they don’t understand. … I haven’t had any complaint yet — major complaint (laughs).

Q: Who is a teaching mentor for you?

A: I had one professor from undergrad who is a mentor, Jeff Trop. He actually graduated from Purdue. He did his masters and Ph.D. in this department. He has a very similar teaching style. He is probably one of the best professors in the Geology department at Bucknell and I try to model some my stuff after him. (Department head of the Department of Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Sciences) Jon Harbor as well. He was my masters’ advisor. I very much enjoyed watching him teach but he is also a very good mentor in terms of guiding you towards things you need to do to reach your career goal. 

Q: Switching over to your research side, what is your main research focus?

A: We are closing the Kyrgyzstan research (on glacial patterns and climate change) and we are trying to get a paper out the research we did last summer. I’m still working on developing a Ph.D. project but it will most likely be something in the Midwest and the glaciation in this area. I just received a summer research grant for it.