Former English MA teaching assistant creates opportunities for others
When Ken Efta (’95) was at Western working on his Master’s degree in English, the part of his academic life he most appreciated was teaching English 101 as a teaching assistant. That experience ultimately permeated most aspects of his post-graduate life: Efta went on to found technology consulting company Allyis in 1996 – along with fellow English teaching assistants Ethan Yarbrough and Richard Law. “It was an awesome experience, that assistantship,” recalls Efta. “I think I only realized once I got into the work world how much I grew through that.” Even in the tech industry, he found that “being able to call on those moments where I had to get up in front of a group of 25 college freshman and impart to them how to write at college level,” served him in excellent stead.
So when he heard that some of the assistantships had been eliminated due to budget cuts, he grabbed the opportunity to create The Efta Fund for English Teaching Assistantships, a gift which will pass on to another graduate student the experience that Efta had found so valuable. “One of the far-reaching aspects of this gift,” notes dean of the College of Humanities and Social Sciences LeaAnn Martin, “is that it goes beyond teaching English 101. By creating extra assistantships, Ken is creating the opportunity for more senior students to teach freshman composition, as well as other more advanced courses. That’s the sort of experience that will set WWU graduates apart, especially as they pursue higher education teaching positions.”
That’s the sort of ripple effect Efta can appreciate. For him, that teaching assistantship led directly to critical learning experiences: “In the tech field, I often found myself up at a whiteboard trying to explain, ‘Here’s the intent for this product and here’s what I think is important for you to understand.’ It was a lot like teaching, which tested my knowledge of how expository writing worked and made me constantly aware of what a group of freshman needed from me in order to take the first even small steps towards achieving clarity in theirwriting. It was an exercise in breaking it down into digestible chunks that they could get in 50 minutes.”
And on a personal as well as career note, his assistantship, of course, also threw him together with Yarbrough and Law; the camaraderie and respect that grew between the three of them, he says, “gave us a great ability to work together in assembling a business and figuring out how to make it run. It also gave us great skills for working with clients.”
Efta, who’s written eloquently elsewhere about his memories of Western’s friendly, nurturing atmosphere, says that he still sees the University as a place of “potential energy,” a place where he clearly found his footing. “There’s that moment when you have to get up in front of a class where it pivots you from learner of that subject matter and material to teacher of that material, and you think, ‘How do I make all of this rich subject material approachable to my students?’ But the very act of getting up there and doing it, it rewired my brain in a certain way. It prepared me to get up in front of a group of people, it prepared me to think differently about my knowledge. I gained expertise by having to teach some of what I knew to others. It’s nice to have the space and time to look back on Western,” he adds. “It feels like it all started there.”