My most important objective as a teacher (and mentor) is to challenge and inspire my students to think about their world, and indeed their universe, in new ways and with a scientific perspective. Comprehension and retention of physics and astronomy materials is vital, but understanding that the critical thinking and problem solving techniques applied within our field are also essential for a wide range of other disciplines is the glue that holds the knowledge together. My job is more than to just teach the traditional materials found in a textbook. My goal is to also provide my students with important skills, in applied mathematics, statistical analysis, computational and critical thinking and problem solving, which are essential for any career they choose to pursue.
The most rewarding part of teaching is knowing that I am helping to create a more scientifically literate society, where my students have the skills needed to make informed decisions, evaluate arguments and proposals based on facts and logic, assess the importance and significance of statistics presented in popular science articles and the press, and approach their lives with an inquisitive nature.
Teaching Experience : During my PhD studies at the University of Wisconsin - Madison I led discussion sections associated with the Astronomy 104 "Exploration of the Solar System" lecture course and co-led the Astronomy 113 "Hands on the Universe" laboratory course, during two semesters as a Teaching Assistant. It's important to point out that TAs at the UW have more independence, responsibility and direct interactions with students than TAs at many other universities. I personally developed and implemented the course materials for my 104 discussion sections, and enjoyed interacting with the 144 students in my 6 discussion sections. I was the lead instructor for my four 113 lab sections (teaching 68 students in total). Our smaller class sizes enabled a much more personal interaction, which was very rewarding for both my students and myself. In addition to leading these classes, I also took courses with the Center for the Integration of Research, Teaching, and Learning (CIRTL) DELTA teaching and professional development program. Teaching is a passion of mine, and I've been fortunate to have these opportunities to develop and refine my teaching skills.
For more details, please see my Teaching Philosophy.
Participation in real and significant scientific research can increase a student's confidence, and introduces them to the challenges, rewards, missteps and joys of success that go along with independent research projects. Picking an appropriate project, in terms of difficulty level, student interest and duration, is paramount, and must be made in collaboration with the student. As a mentor, my goal is to develop projects that are authentic, challenging, feasible and will encourage the student to think deeply about the topic beyond merely the task at hand. Each student requires his or her own path to follow. This path will invariably differ from student to student and may not be identical to my own. As such, a flexibility is needed when explaining projects and searching with students for answers to their questions. I constantly seek the clearest and most natural method for reaching each student in my approach to both mentoring and teaching.
Mentoring Experience : I've been fortunate to work with many talented undergraduate and graduate students. I was a co-advisor for the undergraduate thesis work of Thomas Finzell (2010 UW, "Modeling the Dynamical Formation of NGC 6819 - 3002 with a Genetic Algorithm"),Matthew Bailey (2009 Berea College, "Investigating Blue Straggler Production Through Binary Star Evolution") and Mike DiPompeo (2007 UW, "Exploring Dynamical Formation Scenarios for an Interesting Binary in NGC 6819"). I also co-mentored four undergraduate REU student at UW (Matthew Bailey, Natalie Gosnell, Meagan Morscher and Sylvana Yelda). Natalie Gosnell went on to become a PhD student at the UW working with my group, and I was her graduate student mentor during her first and second years. We still collaborate today. Meagan Morscher recently received her PhD student from Northwestern, and it has been a pleasure continuing to discuss our research during our star cluster group meetings. I mentored Caroline Darin, a very talented Norhtwestern undergraduate from 2013-2015. We investigated the binary characteristics of mass transfer products (e.g., blue straggers, Ba stars, CH stars, etc.) through comparisons between observations and simulations. I also mentored a very bright local high school student, Sheila Dunne, during the 2015 summer. We began investigating the binary population of the young open cluster M37. Sheila is currently attending Notre Dame.