A good teacher understands the needs and challenges of his or her students and gives them the tools to succeed. Electrical engineering Ph.D. student Eldridge Alcantara exemplifies this each day when he works with undergraduate students. His organization, innovation and creativity in teaching has not gone unnoticed. Alcantara has been honored with the University of Washington’s Excellence in Teaching Award.
Since 1983, the University of Washington has chosen two graduate teaching assistants who show an “extraordinary ability in teaching” to receive the Excellence in Teaching Award. They are also inducted into the University of Washington Teaching Academy for one year, where they can participate in a variety of Academy-sponsored projects and events. Alcantara is the only electrical engineering student to receive this honor.
“Eldridge has a talent for breaking down difficult concepts in ways that make them easier to understand,” Radha Poovendran, professor and chair of the Department of Electrical Engineering, said in his nomination letter for Alcantara’s award. “Through carefully selected examples and clear explanations, Eldridge’s lasting gift to his students is his ability to increase their confidence and technical skills to do well in the course.”
In the fall of 2013, Alcantara, who was coming into the electrical engineering’s Ph.D. program, volunteered as a teaching assistant, leading optional discussion sessions. As a volunteer, he would facilitate these sessions for two hours a week, helping students review course content. He said teaching has not only made him face his fear of public speaking but forced him to get creative in finding new ways to teach difficult concepts to help students understand the subject. In 2014, he was named as the lead teaching assistant for the department and has been serving in that role since.
Haobo Zhang, an undergraduate student that attended Alcantara’s discussion session said that Alcantara’s teaching style is clear and concise, and his sessions are some of the best Zhang has experienced in college. It even inspired Zhang to volunteer too—the undergraduate helped Alcantara in the spring quarter to lead the discussions.
“My involvement with teaching as an EE 235 discussion section TA and department lead TA is my small way of giving back to the department, which has given me so much already over these last five years,” Alcantara said. “I have had such an amazing, fulfilling and well-rounded experience at UW so far, and one reason for that is the continuing support I get from this department.”
Emi Harada, another undergraduate electrical engineering student, said Alcantara’s enthusiasm kept the students engaged and vested in learning on their own.
“Rather than just giving the answers straight away for the problems, Eldridge would guide the students there by critical thinking and discussed the right way to approach the problems,” Harada said. “With his mastery in signal processing, he understands what the students may be having difficulties with and gives key examples to help them solve the problems.”
Alcantara said that while he is honored by the recognition, he also appreciated the opportunity and support he got from the department, and the time he got to spend with the students.
“Hands down, the best part of teaching is interacting with students in my class. I love working with them to clear up their misconceptions from lecture or homework,” Alcantara said. “I enjoy listening to their different points of view on concepts and example problems we are discussing. I just like getting to know my students over an entire quarter and hearing all their different stories about what interests them in electrical engineering. My students probably have no idea how much I continue to learn and be inspired by them.”