I’m a passionate explorer, educator, and scientist. I am a Planetary Science Researcher (PhD, 2008). I write grants to NASA to use spacecraft data to study the composition and evolution of rocky planetary bodies (Moon, Mercury, asteroids). My research is broad and interdisciplinary – that equips me to tutor many subjects and also to show students connections between subjects when it improves subject mastery. I have been teaching and tutoring for over twenty years, at every level of my education and career. In high school I taught aerospace education and aviation search and rescue while I earned my pilot’s license. As an undergraduate at Duke I tutored athletes in Geology, Calculus, and Electrical Engineering core courses and I was a teaching assistant for Computer Science and Linear Circuits Laboratory. In graduate school I was a teaching assistant in geology. And as a professor, I’ve taught undergraduate and graduate science courses at a major U.S. research university. Most recently I designed a combined English and Engineering elective to students with limited English Proficiency at a small university in Colombia.
In addition to my academic and career experience I spent four years traveling and living abroad. I supported my travels by working part-time, remotely, on my NASA-funded research projects. At the same time I encountered so many new challenges – in both language and culture – that I am even better equipped to identify diversity in my students’ cultures, backgrounds, and motivations. This has made me a better teacher because being immersed in unfamiliar and confusing situations honed my observational skills and intuition. Constant struggles to make myself understood in my mediocre Spanish or to reword a concept for a confused non-native English speaker have expanded my creativity in the range of ways to explain things that I never thought possible.
I believe that encouraging a student’s natural curiosity is key to successful learning. I prefer to relate learning material to real world applications (particularly outer space) and the interests of the student. I am particularly passionate about making science and math accessible to humanities or social science students and I pride myself on being able to demonstrate the importance of the subject I am tutoring to many areas of academics and civic life.
The most important strategy I employ in tutoring is making it a positive experience. That means working with the student to get them on board *wanting* to learn the material for themselves, independent of requirements. One of my favorite ways to do this is to explore the student's passions and interests and then relate the material they need to learn to something they love. In other cases, a positive experience requires eliminating frustration and/or fear of failure. I've always been a successful student, but my efforts to learn Spanish, outside the classroom, because I needed it to survive, are still the most challenging of my life. I can empathize with students who say they "just aren't a math person" and work to dissuade them of that self-concept.
I am a strong advocate of active learning (coming around to this slowly while tutoring students with limited English proficiency and seeing, first-hand, active learning activities overcome communication barriers). But I personally learn best by lecture, practice problems, and explaining to others. Thus I communicate with the student to determine their preferred style of tutoring but I'm also aware that students aren't always the most self-aware and I use my observation skills to consider other approaches that may be helpful.
Education & Certification
Undergraduate Degree: Duke University - Bachelor of Engineering, Electrical Engineering
Graduate Degree: Arizona State University - Doctor of Philosophy, Planetary Astronomy and Science