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Superb global studies teachers honored by UCLAFrom left: Faculty member Hannah Appel and teaching assistant Arjun Krishna. (Photos: Peggy McInerny/ UCLA.)

Superb global studies teachers honored by UCLA

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By Peggy McInerny, Director of Communications

Global studies teachers Hannah Appel and Arjun Krishna have both received a 2023 UCLA Distinguished Teaching Award. The duo teamed on two International Institute courses during the 2021–22 academic year, when Bruins returned to the classroom after a year and a half of remote learning.

UCLA International Institute, April 12, 2023 — A great teacher is an experience you never forget: someone who makes you feel welcome and part of the conversation, enables you to grasp complicated concepts, communicates a passion for learning that becomes your own and challenges you to think differently.

The interdisciplinary Global Studies Program, chaired by political science and International Institute professor Margaret Peters, nominated two such teachers for Distinguished Teaching Awards this year, and both received the highly competitive award.

Hannah Appel, an associate professor of global studies, international development studies (IDS) and anthropology, won one of six awards reserved for UCLA Senate faculty members, together with the Eby Award for the Art of Teaching. Arjun Krishna, a second-year doctoral student in the UCLA School of Education & Information Studies, won one of five awards conferred on UCLA teaching assistants.

“I want students to sink deeply into class”

“I want students to feel like they can just sink deeply into class and listen — and take in the material through multiple modalities,” says Hannah Appel of her undergraduate courses at the International Institute, which include Reimagining the Global Economy, Cultures of Capitalism, Culture and Globalization, Global Africa, The Global Corporation and Introduction to International Development Studies (see a discussion of the latter course here). 

The economic anthropologist prepares her lectures for large-scale survey classes, which range from 150 to 300 students, in creative Power Point presentations that feature videos and art visuals. “As they hear me talk, they might watch a music video that I’m going to relate to. I’m probably also going to put some visual art on the screen. Maybe I’ll put up some funny Tik Tok videos or funny Twitter threads.” As the quarter progresses, Appel asks students for suggestions on music videos and art relevant to upcoming lectures.

“It’s a lot of work, especially when I first prep a class, but it feels like work that I should do, so that I can give a really good lecture,” says Appel, who finds lectures a wonderful vehicle for her own learning.

She also consciously assigns a reasonable reading load in undergraduate courses. “I point out to the students, ‘I assign you a fraction of the reading that is assigned in other classes. And I want you to do it; I actually want you to read it.’”

“I felt comfortable and welcomed in her teaching environment from
the very first day. At that point in my undergraduate career, I had gone to a
professor’s office hours less than five times.

I was a first-generation student dealing with impostor syndrome
and undiagnosed ADHD, among the usual tensions of balancing the
excitement of UCLA student life with academic responsibilities…

[H]er class was the first time I felt confident enough to
stumble through initial introductions during her office hours
to ask about my then-budding interests.”
Former global studies student (UCLA 2019),
      currently pursuing a doctorate in anthropology

In addition to well-crafted lectures, Appel engages students in class exercises in which they apply the knowledge they are acquiring on, say, numerical literacy by critiquing the statistics used in a World Bank document; or applying ethnographic interviewing skills to write a personal history of migration, ethnicity, religion and race on a fellow student previously unknown to them.

Appel is highly sensitive to the socioeconomic and societal pressures being experienced by students. “Many live far away and they’re trying to get to school, they’re holding multiple jobs and they’re incredibly stressed out about their futures,” she reflects.

She sees her responsibility as university professor to “equip students to see the world differently. I don’t dictate the nature of that difference, but try to offer tools to produce the analytic ability. I teach to provoke questions rather than to provide answers.”

In fact, the seasoned teacher welcomes students who disagree with her and with the course materials they are studying. “In my classes, I teach critical theory, post-colonial theory and theories of racial capitalism in relation to international relations, with a very close reading of texts.

“Some students who encounter this subject matter for the first time have very critical, almost angry questions for me. I really enjoy that back and forth, because I'm not there to be dogmatic about anything.

“I want all students to see themselves and their convictions — and the things that interest them or torment them — in the class. I want them to feel like they are welcome to learn there and that they can disagree with me and they can disagree with their classmates, and that the classroom is actually a place where disagreement becomes exciting.”

Appel is also an accomplished teacher at the graduate level in the anthropology department, where she is a treasured graduate and dissertation advisor. Author of “The Licit Life of Capitalism: US Oil in Equatorial Guinea” (Duke, 2019), she has co-edited and co-authored several other volumes and serves as associate faculty director at the UCLA Luskin Institute on Inequality and Democracy, where her lives as a scholar and activist interact. A co-founder of the nonprofit, The Debt Collective, she was the driving force behind its recently published Tenant Power Toolkit for Californians facing eviction or rent debt.

Building relationships to support students

“As a TA, I have a unique kind of relationship with undergraduates that I’ve never had before with students,” says Arjun Krishna (UCLA Ph.D. 2027), who taught high school in Arizona for three years before joining a UCLA doctoral program in social sciences and comparative education in 2021. They have also taught twice in rural India for short periods as a visiting K–12 teacher.

“I get to be supportive, to have a mentoring role, but not in an authoritative way. Which is what we all dream of in education — our goal is to de-center the teacher as the center of authority in the classroom and democratize education. Being a TA has given me new insights into how that can be done.”

When you speak to Krishna, it’s clear they are a dedicated teacher who love working with students and take their responsibilities towards them very seriously.

In their first year at UCLA, Krishna TA’d for three International Institute courses: Introduction to International Development Studies (taught by Hannah Appel), Rethinking Global Capitalism (Appel) and Globalization: Culture and Society (Laurie Hart). They have since TA’d for six additional courses in an impressive range of subjects for the institute, the Luskin School of Public Affairs and their own School of Education and Information Studies (Ed&IS).

Krishna’s contributions as a TA were deeply valued by professors Appel and Hart, both of whom say they learned a great deal from them. “It was so clear that Arjun was already a talented teacher, thinker and deeply thoughtful about pedagogy in ways I had just begun to broach,” says Appel.

“Once I understood this — only a few weeks in to our first course together — I routinely invited Arjun into course design and direction as a peer, and Arjun met and exceeded my expectations every time.

“Students from all backgrounds – international, first gen, queer and nonbinary, student athletes and STEM students in our class for the GE requirement – all thrived in Arjun’s sections,” she adds.

Notes Laurie Hart, “Arjun invariably took the lead in our [TA] meetings, helping us to solve challenges in pedagogically brilliant, unexpected ways.”

“I was struggling to convey some visceral but somewhat theoretically difficult ideas about the sensory impacts of globalization in our everyday lives,” she continues. “Arjun suggested some alternative readings. I explored and ultimately adopted their suggested readings as a permanent element of the course.”

Krishna reflects, “I think being a high school teacher teaches you how to build relationships with students that I sometimes missed as an undergrad at UC Berkeley. I completely understand the experience of feeling like a small drop in a large ocean... And having 75 students was only half of the number of students I normally had as a high school teacher.

“I always come in to section with a presentation and an agenda. Obviously, it’s subject to modification; students may find something else more useful, and we can talk about that.”

“Arjun always (and I mean always) prepared thoughtful, insightful
and thought- provoking discussion sections which not only deepened
my understanding of the content, but allowed me to learn from
my classmates and their experiences with the topics at hand.”
— Global studies student

“[Their] classroom was a true community, a place to make mistakes
and be treated with compassion, a place where everyone — including
Arjun — was an equal … everyone in Arjun’s classroom mattered.
Identities were celebrated and all ideas were worthy of attention.”
— Ed&IS student

According to both professors and students, one of Krishna’s great talents as a teacher is helping students draw connections between course material, their own lives and other classes they are taking. That extends to helping students write assigned essays in stages, starting with their own experience and what they have to say about a topic, then relating that to course readings and building a final essay with requisite sourcing.

“It’s always interesting to intentionally create space in section where students can make connections between texts, between experiences and between disciplines,” shares Krishna.

Another of their great gifts at a teacher is a deep compassion that enables students to feel seen and safe to express themselves in discussions.

As a doctoral student, Krishna currently takes three or more substantive graduate courses each quarter across diverse fields of study such as anthropology, sociology, environmental science and education. They have also begun field research in a Siddi community in southwestern India. An Afro-descendant indigenous people, the Siddi were originally brought to South Asia by the Portuguese some 400 years ago and fled to the forests to escape slavery.

Krishna’s research looks at the intersection of indigenous knowledge, education infrastructure and development. “I'm trying to use micro-ethnographic approaches to understand how learning happens in the forests, by the rivers or at home. When we take those approaches, we take seriously their forms of learning as legitimate forms of learning and knowing, forms that can be considered an education that don’t rely on a school and an international curriculum — what we think of as education,” they comment.

View Appel's course syllabus for the courrse.
Globalization: Culture and Society