Alex is one of our newest STEM team members! Join him for tutoring on Saturdays!
Tell me about a scientist who inspires you. Why has their work impacted you as a person?
So many amazing women and men have contributed incredible amounts of knowledge to our civilization, but to pick the most inspiring scientist, my choice would have to be Carl Sagan. In addition to his essential work in the field of astronomy, his role as a science communicator has affected me on a personal level.
About two years into studying business administration at university, the lack of mental stimulation and engaging course content had caused me to go into a spiral of depression. In these dark times, a friend of mine sent me a scene from Sagan’s Cosmos that encouraged me to obtain the series on DVD. I remember watching the opening episode and being on the brink of tears by the end. Sagan brings the wonders of the universe into such an eloquent mix of science and beauty that is beyond captivating. His project convinced me to put my business classes on hold for the next semester as I sampled other interests. Within a few months my academic focus had switched to physics and applied mathematics and my self-confidence and overall appreciation for having a place in our vast cosmic arena has since then never dwindled.
How did you get interested in teaching?
When I was taking the introductory physics series at university, my colleagues and I would have the routine before every midterm and final exam of reserving a few tables in the library and studying into the early morning hours. During these sessions I found it incredibly beneficial to not only move on from topics that I had finished reviewing, but to help my friends’ understanding as well. I realized that if I can put the idea of a subject into words that somebody else could comprehend, then I can be confident in my own knowledge of the subject.
You teach every aspect of STEM – Science, Technology, Engineering, Math – Why do you enjoy teaching this subject? What is your favorite subject to teach? Why?
What I find most fascinating, and consequently most enjoyable, about STEM is the interweaving complexity that brings all the subfields together into an alluring web dedicated to unlocking the secrets of our universe. The overlap of fields within STEM can go quite deep with branches consistently calling on one another, such as with astrobiology, geochemistry, and biophysics.
The overlap makes teaching a very exciting occupation because once the worksheet problems or test review is finished and there is time left in the session, a boundless world can be unlocked for the student in terms of where the material they are currently learning will eventually lead. This makes my favorite subject of physics especially fun to teach as it is so fluid to connect the fundamental topics of mechanics and electromagnetism to the universe at large.
On the flip side, many students struggle with all things STEM. What are some of your strategies to help with boosting motivation or passion in this area?
I take what the student is learning and connect it to a grander vision of the universe. Doing so takes something tedious such as a math assignment or a chemistry lab and transforms it into a meditation. Learning something new should not cause fear and anxiety, but wonder and exhilaration. Acquiring new knowledge shouldn’t be a chore for young minds, because it truly is a gift from not only previous generations, but from nature itself. To consider the cosmos a clockwork would be naive, but it is difficult to deny the inherent beauty in the models we have developed in an attempt to find order in the chaos. As Einstein himself stated: “The most incomprehensible thing about the universe is that it is comprehensible”.