An Interview with Victoria D’Agostino, conducted by Ashley Deans
On June 1st, GWHT’s Victoria D’Agostino, a GWHT grad student, was named the Duke University Department of Biomedical Engineering’s Teaching Assistant of the Year.
Meanwhile, our Center has been focusing on the power of STEM education and human-centered design. I decided to sit down with Victoria and discuss how these themes have impacted her and led to her becoming TA of the Year.
How does it feel to be recognized as Duke BME’s TA of the Year? It’s a huge honor. I am really thankful to Dr. Nimmi Ramanujam and Dr. Tuon Vo-Dinh, for being my mentors throughout the TA experience. I loved being a TA it means a lot to be nominated and selected.
What is the best part of being a TA at Duke? The professors! Working with Nimmi and Tuan has been such a great experience.
How has your experience at the Center for Global Women’s Health Technologies (GWHT) impacted your TA experience? It impacted my experience in two main ways. The first way is that I was a TA for Nimmi, the Director of our Center, and her class is really focused around the core focuses of our center. We focus on human-centered design using GWHT’s Pocket Colposcope as a case study throughout the class. Being a part of this lab and being immersed with that process to the extent that I have been (it’s not my personal research) and feeling a connection to that project as a result of being in the lab has helped me in having discussions with the students, answering their questions, or assisting students with their own projects. Additionally, the class is very project-based, so generally being a part of this lab which is also project-based has helped me be able to guide the students.
The second way that GWHT has impacted my TA experience is by giving me the freedom to pursue my own professional development interests. For example, I am interested in eventually becoming a professor, so I am a part of Duke’s Certificate in College Teaching (CCT) program. Being in that program, specifically participating in a couple seminar classes in the fall, has definitely prepared me to be a TA. I’m really glad that GWHT offers its students the freedom to take these kinds of opportunities.
What has the role of STEM education been in your own life? How to do you hope to see that continue or grow? I care deeply about STEM education, and it has always been a guiding thread for me. It’s been a way for me to be a part of my community and give back to my community. When I lived in Boston during my undergrad, I volunteered with a lot of STEM education programs — I volunteered with Science Club for Girls, an organization that teaches young kids about robotics, and a few others— where I mentored young students and worked through STEM curricula with them. In graduate school that has been limited by the pandemic, but I try to tutor and volunteer where I can.
This connection with STEM education is something I want to always keep as a part of my life both as I continue my PhD program and as I begin my career. I think it is so important to always work with the next generation.
What are some things you did to be the best TA that you could be? I tried to be very student-focused. I always tried to watch out for my students’ mental health, keeping in mind that the pandemic has been very tough on people’s mental health in general. I would reach out to students and discuss in class little things like ‘how are you taking care of yourself?’ I hope that putting an emphasis on the well-being of my students was impactful.