Instructional Designer at ExtensionEngine, Cambridge, Massachusetts
In 1996 when I arrived as a student at Hartnell college, I had never taken a physics class. I grudgingly took my first physics class to satisfy a major requirement, and after a semester with Jesse Cude, I was hooked. I could not imagine a more fantastic job than teaching people about the intricacies of the world around us. More than a decade later and fresh out of graduate school in 2008, I took a job running Hartnell's physics department. Fortunately, Jesse invited me to my first national AAPT meeting soon after I began working at Hartnell. We gave a joint presentation about Hartnell's award winning chapter of the Society of Physics Students. At that meeting Tom O'Kuma and Todd Leif invited me to apply for the the New Faculty Experience (NFE) through AAPT. As a participant of the NFE, I was introduced to the modern landscape of college physics teaching. At the end of the eighteen month experience, I had the tools I needed to veer away from traditional lecture-based teaching into the active learning classroom. Eventually, I saw the terrific impact of active learning on the cohort of engaged physics students at Hartnell. By the time I left Hartnell to take a new position at American River College, I was ready to bring all my lessons to a new department and a much larger TYC.
AAPT helped me transform my teaching, but it has also significantly influenced other aspects of my professional life. The Two-Year College (TYC) Leadership Institute is one example. Several summers ago, I heard a talk by Beth Cunningham, about Project Kaleidoscope (PKAL), the American Association of College and Universities' STEM higher education reform center. PKAL is "dedicated to empowering STEM faculty, including those from underrepresented groups, to graduate more students in STEM fields who are competitively trained and liberally educated." After the talk, I contacted Beth and she encouraged my enthusiasm. We collected a team of excellent AAPT TYC folks and worked to organize and execute the TYC Leadership Institute. Based on the principles of the PKAL Summer Leadership Institute, we designed the workshop to involve participants in activities, experiential learning exercises, and discussions to foster leadership skills as well as engage issues ranging from work-life balance to effective communication. It was very well received. From one participant: "I have a better understanding about how administrators ... make decisions, which helps me formulate more convincing arguments to advance the needs of my field." As both an organizer and participant, I have taken a tremendous amount away from both institutes we have conducted so far.
Last fall after seven years as a college physics professor, I decided to take a very interesting sabbatical at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. I enrolled in the Technology, Innovation, and Education EdM program. Among other things, it was an amazing survey of the current landscape of educational technology and how that technology can be a help and hinderance in the increasingly complicated world of education. It was a wonderful experience and truly substantiated everything I had learned from my AAPT TYC colleagues over the years. After a year at Harvard, I wasn't ready to leave behind my ties to Cambridge, so I accepted a position as an Instructional Designer at ExtensionEngine, a firm that designs custom learning experiences in partnership with clients from Harvard to the Kauffman Foundation. Everyday I use what I learned in seven years of physics teaching, considering the puzzles of bringing quality education online.