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Syracuse University, College of Arts and Sciences

2022 Outstanding TA Award Emily Pifer

Emily Pifer portrait

Posted on: May 12, 2022

Congratulations to Emily Pifer, doctoral candidate in the Composition and Cultural Rhetoric program, for being awarded a 2022 Outstanding Teaching Assistant Award. Selection for the Outstanding TA award is made by a university-wide committee of faculty recognized for their teaching excellence and is given to approximately the top 4% of all TAs campus wide.
In response to receiving this award, Emily says, “I am so grateful for this award, especially for the ways it has prompted me to reflect on how much I have learned from both my mentors and students, and how much I believe in the transformative potential of the writing classroom. As a Teaching Assistant in the writing department, I have felt nurtured and supported by my teaching mentors. At the same time, I have felt a sense of space and freedom to explore and develop my teaching practices in collaboration with my students. I believe it is this balance of support and freedom that has allowed my students and I to respond to our social, culture, and political contexts in ways that spur our intellectual and spiritual growth as writers, scholars, and members of various interconnected communities. It was reading bell hooks’ Teaching to Transgress that most effectively convinced me that my sense of the writing classroom as both an intellectual and spiritual space was not overly idealistic or sentimental, but essential. In hooks’ words, we must “teach in a manner that respects and cares for the souls of our students . . . if we are to provide the necessary conditions where learning can most deeply and intimately begin” (13).

The following are excerpts from letters nominating Emily for this award:
“It gives me great pleasure to nominate Emily Pifer for the Outstanding TA Award. Emily is one of the finest teachers I have encountered in my work as director of TA education, and her mentorship of other TAs in our program as been extraordinary. I first met Emily in fall 2019 our departmental TA education course as she began her work in our Composition and Cultural Rhetoric graduate program. Emily brought an exceptional level of creativity and care to her work in the classroom from the start. Since our teachers are instructors of record with only a few weeks lead time to the beginning of their teaching responsibilities, we offer new TAs sample materials for building their WRT 105 courses. Emily immediately understood the scaffolding for the sample materials and the relationship between the learning outcomes and work of the course. She built on the materials we provided in dynamic ways, offering a range of fresh ideas for readings, assignments, and activities that incorporated opportunities for students to explore questions of diversity, inclusion and linguistic justice. collaboration, critical thinking, and exciting writing projects . . . . Emily is an exceptionally talented and innovative teacher, and her skills and leadership has made a difference not only in her own classroom, but to the many teachers she mentored in her two years as an Assistant Director for Teacher Education in our department.—Jonna Gilfus, Associate Teaching Professor, Director of Undergraduate Studies, Writing Studies, Rhetoric, and Composition

“Emily and I have worked together in the Future Professoriate Program for close to two years now, and I can say without hesitation that she has been one of the strongest TAs that I’ve worked with over the past 20 years. I typically work with students as their mentor, but with Emily, our relationship has been closer to that of colleagues. I have observed her teaching on multiple occasions and had many conversations with her about the classroom. When I volunteered a couple of years ago to teach our WRT 114 course, Emily was one of the first people that I consulted as I designed my syllabus . . . .Emily is one of those people who not only knows a great deal, but she knows how to translate her knowledge in ways that connect with her students. Last fall, I visited a section of her WRT 114, and came away with a host of ideas for the next time that I teach it. Emily is adept at creating a classroom environment where her students feel respected, empowered, and set up to succeed. Her students clearly thought of themselves as writers and their discussion of that week’s readings, as well as their interactions with one another, provided ample evidence of their confidence in this regard”— Collin Gifford Brooke, Associate Professor of Writing and Rhetoric, Director of Graduate Studies

“I have worked with Emily in several capacities during her time as a graduate student at SU. First, I served as her teaching mentor during the 2019-2020 academic year. When I met Emily, I knew that she had quite a bit of teaching experience, but I was still tremendously impressed by her innovative teaching materials and engaging classroom presence. For example, in Fall 2019 I visited a WRT 105 class session during which Emily was introducing the use of a community-based rubric for the first writing assignment in the course. Emily deftly moved students through the tasks of analyzing the WRT 105 course outcomes, assessing students’ individual goals and values, and considering those individual responses in relation to the broader classroom community. The goal, Emily said, was to consider how she could “guide each writer to their own versions of confidence” and consider whether “having a rubric in one’s own words may impact their drafting and/or their feelings around assessment.” This was a fascinating class session during which students were meaningfully engaged—no small feat with first-year students in an 8am class! . . . .In the summer of 2020, Emily joined the Writing department’s TA mentor team to help prepare new TAs to teach WRT 105 in the Fall of 2020. Given the Covid-19 pandemic, our work that summer focused on re-designing the TA training course, formerly a two-week in-person program, as an asynchronous online course that new TAs could complete at their own pace. Emily created content that was challenging but accessible, and she helped our new TAs develop the knowledge and skills needed to teach, many for the first time ever. “—Emily Dressing. Associate Teaching Professor and Assistant Undergraduate Director, Writing Studies, Rhetoric, and Composition

“Professor Pifer was an excellent and supportive professor who always made herself available, during class conferences or reaching out to us by emails. My favorite memory from the class was when I had a one on one meeting with Professor Pifer to discuss my writing and I discovered she was a fellow fan of one of my favorite authors, which was an incredibly meaningful moment to me. Professor Pifer made sure that every student was given the opportunity to do their best on their assignments and combined peer review into each project, which gave us an opportunity to critique other writing and viewing their writing techniques. My peer review group actually got rather close and we really enjoyed and grew from sharing our writing with one another, which is especially exceptional considering we had to take the class online due to Covid.”— Brooke Blackwell, junior Advertising major

“Professor Pifer’s course was structured in a way that built upon itself, so we could see and reflect on our progress from the beginning through to the end. Professor Pifer made sure that every student was given the opportunity to do their best on their assignments and combined peer review into each project, which gave us an opportunity to critique other writing and viewing their writing techniques”— Shaleigh Harrington, junior EEE and Marketing Management major

“To say Ms. Pifer is an amazing teacher is an understatement . . . .Her enthusiasm and love for her work she taught, showed through in all of our assignments given to us. I took multiple AP English courses and writing classes throughout high school, but none have ever compared to writing 114 with Ms. Pifer. Ms. Pifer began every class with a free write, helping us have our creativity flow. This was the first time I had ever done this in a class and it helped me fall in love with writing all over again. From studying different writing styles such as flash essays to ending the semester with a paper based on a topic we wanted to write about, I felt a whole new passion for writing develop.”— Alexandra Cuoco, freshman French major

“Professor Pifer is a very special type of teacher, and I am so thankful to have been in her class . . . . Professor Pifer was incredibly skilled at leading discussions. She’s very attuned to the moments in which the class conversation is flowing naturally, as well as the moments in which we need a bit of help to get unstuck. By backing off in some moments and contributing her own thoughts in others, she helped the discussion be productive and understanding of the class’s diverse viewpoints. I always felt valued and encouraged when participating in class discussions, and I benefited from hearing my peer’s thoughts as well . . . . Professor Pifer deeply cared about her students and encouraged us to be vulnerable, both with her and with each other . . . . I wouldn’t have developed the courage to write these pieces or to share them with others if not for Professor Pifer’s encouragement.“—Sonja Nusser, freshman Chemistry major

“During my time as her student, I came to know Professor Pifer as an educator who cares deeply about her students, in their personal, academic, and professional wellbeing, as well as every aspect of the course material that she teaches. Professor Pifer is organized, clear, thoughtful, wise, supportive, intelligent, and creative . . . . From my own personal interactions with Professor Pifer, I know her to be kind, considerate, and patient first and foremost. She is a fantastic listener and provided me with enriching and attentive feedback on assignments. I never once felt uncomfortable, unseen, or unheard in her class; she made every effort to include all students . . . . Being in Professor Pifer’s class was one of the highlights of my college experience so far, and I am certain that it will remain so throughout my coming years at Syracuse. “—Stephanie Wright, student

“I took Writing 105 and 205 with Professor Emily Pifer in Fall 2019 and Spring 2020. Professor Pifer was an exceptional writing professor. I really enjoyed the material and her teaching style. Having Professor Pifer as a writing instructor helped me to grow and succeed as a writer. She gave me constructive feedback and was always willing and available to discuss my work. I also appreciated all her help and patience along the way.” Rubin Parker, junior Film major, College of Visual and Performing Arts.