Chemistry graduate student Jessica Bocanegra is the winner of the UVM Graduate Student Senate’s Thomas Sullivan Outstanding Graduate Teaching Assistant of the Year.

Bocanegra, who is pursuing her doctoral degree in chemistry, was nominated for this year’s award by 15 of her former students from General Chemistry Lab 031, which is for non-chemistry majors.

“Last semester I taught two sections of general chemistry labs, and it was the most fun I’ve had teaching. It was the best semester that I’ve had teaching wise,” she says, adding that teaching lab is especially rewarding. “Like many students, I’m a hands-on learner. I don’t fully understand something until I am fully in it and doing it. I know the lab piece is really important to students because they get to have that experience to connect what they’ve learned in class to what they’re doing in the lab.”

The award is given to a graduate student who shows their passion for teaching through their teaching assistantship and enables undergraduate students to pursue their passions and learn more about various topics that relate to their overall career path.  To thank President Sullivan for his years of service to the University and steadfast advocacy of students at UVM, the Graduate Student Senate is dedicating our GTA of the year award to him.

After graduating with a bachelor’s degree in chemistry from the College of New Jersey in 2015, Bocanegra came to UVM for a five-year doctoral program. She’s thought about teaching since she was a child, and decided she wanted to pursue chemistry while she was in high school.

“What I enjoy most about teaching is interacting with the students,” she says. “Watching that lightbulb go on for them and having them make that connection between the lecture and lab is awesome.”

Her first time teaching in the lab back when she started the chemistry graduate program was more challenging than she expected, but Bocanegra soon found her way.

“When I first had to teach, it was so much harder than I expected,” she says. “But once I got past that first lab, I knew what questions were coming from students and figured out the things I didn’t have to spend so much time on. It got a lot easier, and I ended up really liking it.”

Bocanegra is vice president of the Graduate Student Senate and also chairs the Kappa Delta chapter advisory board at UVM (she recently received the Anne Trask Forcier Outstanding Chapter Advisor Award for Kappa Delta). She received the Outstanding Graduate TA award at the annual Graduate Student Senate banquet on May 10.

“When I finish my Ph.D., I’m really open to the idea of teaching,” she says. “Teaching is an outlet for me, and it’s something I can get on board with for my future.”


Erica Houskeeper