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WCSU’s new TAF program offers grad students a blended opportunity

Andre Selino, John Arnett, Maria Rodriguez-Hernandez, Kayla Deguzman, Thomas Hilling and Andrew Powers are the first fellows in the new WCSU Biology Teaching Assistant Fellows program.

DANBURY, Connecticut — Western Connecticut State University’s new TAF program offers graduate students interested in earning an M.S. in Integrated Biological Diversity a blended opportunity that helps fund their education while they learn to become educators and work on their research and stewardship projects. The WCSU Biology Teaching Assistant Fellows (TAF) program also allows participants to build extended community and collaborations with faculty and peers while earning their degrees.

Pictured above – (l-r): Andre Selino, John Arnett, Maria Rodriguez-Hernandez, Kayla Deguzman, Thomas Hilling and Andrew Powers.

In its inaugural year, WCSU’s Biology Teaching Assistant Fellows program provides a cohort of graduate students with a unique opportunity to receive both pedagogical and biological training while helping to educate and foster an interest in biology and environmentalism in students who are non-science majors. The TAF program provides teaching training fellowships with stipends for students earning an M.S. of Integrated Biology Diversity degree from WCSU’s Department of Biological and Environmental Sciences. Fellows are trained to teach laboratory sections of Concepts of Biology courses, and through this will learn to engage and communicate science principles to non-science majors and more diverse audiences.

“The TAF program combines the strengths of Western Connecticut State University’s small lab classes and the expertise of faculty in the Department of Biological and Environmental Sciences. The program provides a stipend to graduate students, allowing them to spend more time on campus and thus be able to interact frequently and collaborate with faculty and fellow students,” said Dr. Neeta Pardanani Connally, professor of Biological and Environmental Sciences and coordinator of the TAF program. “Our fellows help undergraduate students learn about biological and environmental issues facing the world today. Our first cohort of fellows have really connected to their students and the TAF program has really energized our department,” she added.

TAF John Arnett of Bastrop, Texas, said that not only is the program the reason he can afford to attend graduate school, he believes his experience in the program taught him how to “relay science information to students who have little knowledge on the subject.” Kayla Deguzman of Norwalk said, “The TAF program is necessary for young scientists like me who inevitably want to become university professors – science is more than the research and experiments, it’s about communicating.” Thomas Hilling of Rochester, New York, agreed: “This program provides an opportunity to hone teaching skills in a higher-education setting. It also provides me more opportunities to engage with the faculty and build an incredible support system.”

Andrew Powers of Johnson City, Tennessee, believes that the WCSU TAF program offers one of the best ways to gain biology teaching experience in a supportive and welcoming environment. Classmate Maria Rodriguez-Hernandez of New Berlin, Wisconsin, is most impressed by the faculty support she receives and believes that having the experience to teach people about the concepts in biology is a valuable skill that she can build at WCSU. Andre Selino of New Fairfield appreciates how the TAF program enables him to inspire undergraduate students to critically think both in and outside of the lab. “Being able to teach students about topics that they might be unfamiliar with allows me to transcend my teaching skills as well as build my confidence for teaching large groups and public speaking,” he said.

The WCSU Master of Science degree in Integrative Biological Diversity blends the biological and environmental sciences with current social issues in order to train students to assess, manage and think critically about biodiversity issues. The degree program combines graduate courses with faculty expertise across the Connecticut State Colleges and University System. The program is designed for secondary education teachers, current environmental science professionals and others who are interested in a graduate-level biology degree that focuses on the ecological, physiological and natural history of biological organisms.

If you are interested in applying for the TAF program, complete the Graduate TAF Application and submit it to the Biology Graduate Program Chair, Dr. Theodora Pinou, at




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