For her phenomenal teaching, commitment to fostering an inclusive and open learning community, and passion for training other teaching assistants, Tianyi “Titi” Kou-Herrema, Graduate Teaching Assistant in the Department of Linguistics, Languages, and Cultures, is a 2022 recipient of Michigan State University’s Excellence-In-Teaching Citation.
Supported by MSU’s Office of University Development, Excellence-In-Teaching Citations are awarded to graduate teaching assistants who have distinguished themselves by the care they have given and the skill they have shown in meeting their classroom responsibilities. The essential purpose of the citation is to bring university-wide recognition to the best of the graduate teaching assistants and, by so doing, to underline the qualitative contribution that they are making to the undergraduate program.
A doctoral candidate in German Studies, Kou-Herrema’s enthusiasm for teaching originates in her love and passion for languages and cultures. As a non-native speaker of the two languages she works with on a daily basis, German and English, she understands and empathizes with the challenges her students face in learning a new language. Recognizing her own situation between German, English, and Chinese, she brings a fresh cultural perspective to classroom discussions that not only encourages international students to speak up and help cultivate open-mindedness within the entire class, but also inspires all learners to approach everyday topics from a global perspective.
“Learning a language is kind of like opening a door for you to experience a different culture and see their history, see their music, see their sports,” Kou-Herrema said. “It’s all part of the experience, and I think that’s what education should be about. College education should be about being open-minded and growing as an individual.”
“Learning a language is kind of like opening a door for you to experience a different culture and see their history, see their music, see their sports.”
Kou-Herrema’s dedication to maintaining students’ education and their mental/emotional health during what were exceptionally difficult years in 2020 and 2021 was strongly appreciated by her students. One student wrote: “Her classroom space was one of collaboration, community, at times comedy, but above all, confidence; her influence on me will last a lifetime.”
“First, you treat your student like an equal individual, you respect them,” Kou-Herrema said. “I try to help them as much as I can. I respect them no matter where they’re from, no matter what cultural or family background they have. We’re all here to learn. We should all support each other.”
As a Graduate Teaching Assistant, Kou-Herrema says she finds it most rewarding when a student genuinely falls in love with the German language and decides to continue their studies into higher levels of fluency.
“My proudest moment is probably when a student doesn’t need the German language or any language class. They chose it and then they stick with it, whether they finish 102 or go on to 201 or 202, or even go for a minor, education abroad, or a major,” Kou-Herrema said. “And then they say, ‘I discovered this is the class where I felt I’m respected and I’m happy and I want to learn more about this culture.’ That’s my proudest moment, that I started this journey for them, and they continued.”
Kou-Herrema’s research builds on the interdisciplinary intersection of sports studies, critical theory, and digital humanities. In 2019, she was awarded the DAAD (Deutscher Akademischer Austauschdienst) Alumni Scholarship from the German Academic Exchange Service for her participation in the European Summer University in Digital Humanities, “Culture and Technology.” Later, she presented one of her digital projects, “The Multicultural German Men’s National Football Team,” at the First Academic Alumni Forum at Leipzig University. She has presented numerous conference papers, nationally and internationally, and participated in numerous professional and digital training projects. She was named Outstanding Teaching Assistant in the Department of Linguistics, Languages, and Cultures in April 2021 and was the Winner of Seasons of GRADitude in MSU’s Graduate School in December 2020.
“I get my energy out of teaching. I like being in the classroom. I like seeing how other people grow. I like to share my research.”
In addition to serving the outreach and research committees in Digital Humanities at MSU, Kou-Herrema also is part of the Graduate Teaching Assistant Advisory Group at the Graduate School, which designed and led the Graduate Assistant Preparation Program 2021.
“I get my energy out of teaching. I like being in the classroom. I like seeing how other people grow. I like to share my research,” Kou-Herrema said. “I also believe in digital humanities. We can study culture in a different approach using computational methods, that’s my firm research belief.”
Kou-Herrema will be presented with the Excellence-In-Teaching Citation at MSU’s 2022 Awards Convocation on Wednesday, May 11, at the Kellogg Hotel & Conference Center at Michigan State University. For more information and a complete listing of MSU’s 2022 All-University Awards recipients, see the article in MSU Today.