Graduate Student Wins Excellence in Teaching Award for Flexible, Experience-Based Classrooms

Tara Jean (T.J.) Mesyn, a Ph.D. student and graduate instructor in both the College of Communication Arts & Sciences and the College of Education, is a recipient of the Excellence in Teaching Citations award from Michigan State University for her passionate, flexible, and personable approach to teaching in classrooms across campus. 

“I know those of us who really love teaching don’t do it for the awards,” Mesyn said. “But at the same time, it means the world when you are recognized for something you are so passionate about and pour your soul into.”

Mesyn joins five other graduate teaching assistants in receiving this year’s citations, all who have excelled in their classroom responsibilities and have made a qualitative contribution to the undergraduate program.

Flexibility and Growth in Teaching

An instructor for courses ranging from News Media Law & Ethics to Photojournalism, Mesyn’s passion for teaching and her dedication to her students is easy to see throughout her classrooms and philosophies. 

With teaching based on personal experiences and aspirations, Mesyn strives to provide her students with the agency to represent their own life experiences while exposing them to diverse perspectives from various media, journalists, educators, and creatives.

“I believe constant perspective-taking, reflection, and growth are essential to provide a valuable learning experience for my students,” Mesyn said. 

She is not afraid to try new approaches in her teaching, even if it means admitting to a “failed” experiment and pivoting to a more creative and effective approach. Mesyn focuses on the importance of flexibility and preparation to enhance her students' understanding and experience — to avoid a boring, uninteresting classroom environment.

“The thought of becoming stagnant like Ben Stein’s portrayal of a high school teacher — with a classroom full of uninterested, unseen and unheard students in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (‘Bueller? Bueller?’) — is enough to keep pushing me to try new things and take risks,” said Mesyn. “Trying something new and listening to the students has steered me toward creating less boring, Ben Stein-esque spaces.” 

Uncovering Insights to Improve Education & Media

Mesyn's dedication to teaching extends beyond the classroom. Across her departments in ComArtSci’s School of Journalism and the College of Education’s Curriculum, Instruction, & Teacher Ed Ph.D. program, Mesyn dives into how to better educational practices. 

“Every research project I embark on deals with education in some way, shape, or form,” she said. 

Some of her research projects include: 

  • How and through what lenses children’s educational television is created and produced, with a team led by AD+PR Assistant Professor Fashina Aladé 
  • How media, specifically iconic images, influences how American citizens understand history and play a role in shaping our collective memory
  • How news media products are used in classrooms, and if tenets of media and visual literacy are part of the discussion when media is used in those classrooms

Mesyn reflected, “Education is so deeply infused into who I am, a future without teaching or some role in education feels absurd.” 

Her next step is comprehensive exams and then a dissertation, focused on that intersection between education and media. 

“I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my coursework and there are more classes I wish I could take, but to concentrate on exactly what I feel is important and could potentially make a difference in the world of media and education—that’s something I’ve looked forward to for years.”

Collage of student portraits from Mesyn’s latest JRN 310 (Photojournalism) class

Photo: Collage of student portraits from Mesyn’s latest JRN 310 (Photojournalism) class


—Samantha Brichta


School of Journalism 

2022-2023 All-University Awards Recipients