October 2020: Troy Messina
Berea College, Berea, KY
- Member since 2016
- Associate Professor
- Berea, KY
I went to college having decided that I wanted to do something artistic and had no plans to pursue science. However, like many, I was lured into physics by an astronomy course I took as a first-year college student. It was a traditional stellar evolution course, and really, the only thing I remember is that the professor used many colors of markers for his transparencies. I took another astronomy course on the search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI) and decided to look into astronomy as a major. When I looked at the requirements for getting a degree in astronomy, I saw a long list of physics courses. I started on the physics and math and never returned to astronomy.
I wasn’t the most dedicated undergraduate student and often struggled as a result. I feel as though I lucked into graduate school acceptance because I had worked hard at an independent study in one of my professor’s labs. The success I had in the lab was affirmation that I could do physics. When I began teaching as a graduate student I felt as though I was able to help students because I understood their struggles. Those experiences solidified my desire to teach.
As a physics teacher I have a strong focus on skill development. I think it is important that we pay attention to the AIP statistics that show private sector employment of bachelor’s degrees requires solving technical problems, working on a team, and technical writing ahead of knowledge of physics and astronomy. While we teach a subject, we need to also provide students the opportunities to develop broadly applicable skills. To do this, I incorporate computer modeling, microcontroller prototyping, and lots of writing, from lab documentation to writing op eds. I want my students to feel comfortable communicating science.
My first experience with AAPT was the New Faculty Workshop when I first started teaching at a small liberal arts college. I think it was 2008. The workshop was extremely helpful for finding footing as a new teacher, but for no good reason I did not maintain my association with AAPT. I switched institutions after seven years of teaching and quickly became active with the regional section of AAPT in Kentucky. Through those activities I began to become more engaged with AAPT. I am still a newcomer to AAPT, learning all that AAPT has to offer. So far, I have met some of the most supportive people. I think that has been the biggest benefit for me. If I have a question about diversity and inclusion, computation, remote instruction, or whatever it may be, the friends I have made through AAPT are always there to help. I am continually impressed with the dedication and devotion AAPT members have to the organization, to teaching, and to one another.