Asee peer logo

Graduate Teaching Assistant Certification as a Requirement for First-Time TAs in the Cockrell School of Engineering at The University of Texas

Download Paper |


2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


New Orleans, Louisiana

Publication Date

June 26, 2016

Start Date

June 26, 2016

End Date

August 28, 2016





Conference Session

Innovative Graduate Programs and Methods, Developing Master's & Ph.D. Programs and Graduate Teaching Assistants

Tagged Division

Graduate Studies

Page Count




Permanent URL

Download Count


Request a correction

Paper Authors


Thomas J. Connolly University of Texas - Austin

visit author page

Dr. Connolly has been leading the development and implementation of the TA Certification Program in the Cockrell School of Engineering since its inception in the Fall of 2013. Before he joined Cockrell School, he worked at the Charles A. Dana Center for Mathematics and Science Education at UT Austin, originally in conjunction with The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, on the development of mathematics course pathways to improve student success and degree completion. During this time, he oversaw course development and was responsible for developing faculty supports and professional learning opportunities.
Dr. Connolly served for ten years as a faculty member in the Mechanical Engineering departments at Penn State University in Erie and The University of Texas at San Antonio, where he was the Principal Investigator for several engineering education research programs under the auspices of the National Science Foundation. These programs focused on remotely accessible collaborative experimentation and the merging of theory-based learning and laboratory-course activities using mobile computing technology to improve undergraduate engineering education.
Prior to his academic career, Dr. Connolly worked as a systems integration engineer on the Space Station and Space Shuttle programs at the NASA Johnson Space Center, and as a reliability engineer on the B-2 Stealth Bomber program for the Department of Defense.
Dr. Connolly earned a B.E. in Mechanical Engineering from the State University of New York at Stony Brook, an M.S.E. in Aerospace Engineering, and Ph.D. in Mechanical Engineering, both from UT Austin. He served as a graduate teaching assistant for six years during his graduate studies.

visit author page

Download Paper |


The Teaching Assistant Certification Program in the Cockrell School of Engineering is part of a larger engineering graduate student professional development program whose main goals are to increase success and retention rates of undergraduate engineering students with well-qualified TAs, and to professionally develop engineering graduate students to be successful in their teaching and careers. All TAs are required to be certified during the first semester in which they are appointed. The TA certification workshop is based on research and best practices in education – it takes a hands-on and interactive approach in covering the following topics: understanding undergraduate students and the culture of higher education in the U.S., principles of student success, fundamentals of pedagogy, student learning styles, questioning strategies to increase student engagement, and managing the practical aspects of a TA position, such as working with faculty, grading, office hours, and resolving student issues. TAs are either observed during their classroom/laboratory session or are required to participate in a teaching practicum session, where they are evaluated by their peers. These are followed by a debrief to provide constructive feedback for improving teaching effectiveness. TAs are required to conduct two surveys during first semester in which they are appointed. The Early Semester Survey (ESS) enables students to provide critical early feedback so that TAs can make adjustments to their teaching practices. At the end of the semester, the TA version of the university’s Course Instructor Survey (CIS) is conducted. This paper will present an overview of the program with a focus on the certification curriculum, data analyses of the effectiveness of the TA Certification Program, along with lessons learned and plans for further development of the program.

Connolly, T. J. (2016, June), Graduate Teaching Assistant Certification as a Requirement for First-Time TAs in the Cockrell School of Engineering at The University of Texas Paper presented at 2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, New Orleans, Louisiana. 10.18260/p.25422

ASEE holds the copyright on this document. It may be read by the public free of charge. Authors may archive their work on personal websites or in institutional repositories with the following citation: © 2016 American Society for Engineering Education. Other scholars may excerpt or quote from these materials with the same citation. When excerpting or quoting from Conference Proceedings, authors should, in addition to noting the ASEE copyright, list all the original authors and their institutions and name the host city of the conference. - Last updated April 1, 2015