At Virginia Tech, the Honors College provides its students with numerous opportunities for personal growth and professional development. For example, sophomore Natasha Doshi, a student in the Honors College studying clinical neuroscience, took a course called Honors College First-Year Seminar last fall. It was taught by Anna Broshkevitch, a senior in microbiology and Spanish, and the experience influenced Doshi’s decision to become a peer educator and teach her own class, Ethics and Leadership in the Real World, this semester.
“I thought that the dynamics were very interesting in a peer-led class. After having a very positive experience, I was inspired to apply to teach my own class,” Doshi said.
Although Doshi is in the College of Science, she wanted to teach a broad topic that she was interested in outside of her major. Even though she was initially nervous about teaching a topic unrelated to her major, she was glad that she chose a subject that allows her to learn with her students.
“I am greatly interested in both ethics and leadership, and I greatly value mentorship. I believe that leadership is a part of life that transcends major or career interests, and it is an area where everyone has the room to grow and learn,” Doshi said.
According to Doshi, ethical principles and behaviors are essential for society to function effectively, yet ethical codes differ across cultures, professions and even individuals who share a culture or profession. Her seminar examines the role of ethics in politics, the workplace, health care, communication and consumer culture. In addition, her class helps students to reflect on their own ethical accountability and values as they develop individualized leadership styles. The class is discussion-based, encouraging all participants to contribute to the dialogue.
Doshi created a proposal of what the class would entail and received approval in March from Dr. Paul Heilker, an associate professor for the Department of English. Doshi teaches 10 students on Tuesdays from 12:30-1:20 p.m. at Hillcrest Hall. Although teaching a class, especially as an undergraduate student, can be intimidating, Doshi had plenty of resources to help her prepare.
“Dr. Heilker trained me over the summer prior to the start of this semester, and he holds training sessions with peer educators during the semester. I reached out to a few of my professors for advice on teaching, and they were generous with their suggestions. Also, I put time into thinking of supplementary materials that would interest me if I was taking the class, and I looked up online resources and advice to prepare for the first class,” Doshi said.
Doshi attends regular faculty meetings, which are overseen by Heilker. During the meetings, all peer educators talk about parts of their classes that are working and not working. As a peer educator, she selects her own course materials and supplementary books for her class, facilitates weekly discussions, plans activities, takes attendance and grades assignments. Also, she brings in guest speakers like Dr. Emily Satterwhite, an associate professor for the Department of Religion and Culture, who protested the building of the Mountain Valley Pipeline. Occasionally, she includes warm-ups that involve writing on dry-erase boards, followed by a relevant discussion.
“During class, we have some very thought-provoking discussions. My class is graded on attendance, and people are marked as present after they contribute during class. At the beginning of the semester, people were more hesitant to voice their thoughts and opinions. However, at this point, each class includes an extremely interesting conversation,” Doshi said.
She believes that people are more receptive when activities and parts of the class are personalized. For example, she gives her students feedback on their presentations and discussion posts a few days before class meets, so they can make any recommended changes. Doshi also taught her students how to write a professional email at the beginning of the semester. Each student had to send an email that detailed what they wanted to get out of the class and what they were interested in doing.
“I am able to look back at the emails they sent me and create activities and parts of the class dedicated to things I feel they would be interested in based on what they told me they were interested in seeing and doing at the beginning of the year,” Doshi said.
Doshi has enjoyed being a peer educator and hopes to teach again during future semesters. Through her experiences, she has learned how setting the tone for the first class greatly influences the group dynamics for the remainder of the semester and received insight into her own teaching and leadership style.
“Teaching the class has been an amazing opportunity for me to build relationships with some of my peers and be very creative when making different activities and warm-ups for my students to do. I would definitely recommend teaching a class as it has been very rewarding to see my growth as a teacher and my students’ growth throughout the semester. For any current or future Honors Hokies, I would say that this opportunity has been invaluable and fascinating. Virginia Tech is a neat place that offers such opportunities, so seize them,” Doshi said.