April 2023: Rachel Henderson

Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI

Rachel Henderson

  • Member since 2015
  • Assistant Professor
  • East Lansing, MI

About Rachel

My love for physics began as I was sitting in my high school physics class and my teacher was demonstrating the conservation of angular momentum by spinning on a stool with bricks in his hands. From that moment, I saw physics in everything I did – from building bridges out of toothpicks and glue for a school competition to questioning how physics might be used to explain how a pitcher throws a rise ball during a game of fastpitch softball.

When people ask me how I got into the field of physics they're frequently shocked at the answer "athletics is what helped me make the decision". At the age of 18, I began my undergraduate education at Slippery Rock University (SRU) in Pennsylvania as a pre-engineering major and student-athlete on the SRU softball team. With this choice of academic program came many introductory science and math classes – a tough schedule for someone on a team that practices from 10 pm to midnight every day. After my freshman year, I was offered an athletic scholarship to continue to play 2nd base for the Rock and it was then that I realized I had a decision to make between only playing for a couple more years before transferring for an engineering degree at Penn State University or choose a specific discipline so that I could stay at SRU and play the sport I loved for as long as I could. Reflecting on all my classes during my first year, physics was the thing that stood out the most to me, especially since now I could somewhat explain the mechanics around a riseball, so I decided to become a physics major.

Following my time at SRU, I attended graduate school at West Virginia University (WVU) where I first discovered the field of physics education research. During my time there, John and Gay Stewart were hired to build a WVUTeach program as well as reform the undergraduate physics curriculum within the physics department. Working with them as a graduate student in their physics education research lab is what made me fall in love with using evidence-based strategies to inform teaching practices within physics classrooms.

During my graduate experience, I first joined AAPT in May 2015 to attend my first AAPT conference during the summer. There, it quickly became obvious to me that I was in the right environment talking with "my people" – everyone that I had a conversation with had the same love for teaching physics that I did and I’ve truly benefited from being a part of this community. My favorite part is having the opportunity to learn from a diverse set of individuals about the teaching and learning of physics. As a means to give back, I've been a part of the PER Leadership and Organizing Council (PERLOC) since 2021 with the goal of making a small but impactful contribution to AAPT and the field of physics education, more broadly. My hope is that my engagement and service in the AAPT community will someday make an impact on future physicists and physics teachers.