An Interview with Erik Gundersen
What is your current position?
Superintendent of Schools - Pascack Valley Regional High School District
What made you choose to attend UD?
What initially attracted me to the University of Delaware was the beauty of the campus and its overall reputation for academic excellence. I also came to realize that UD was large enough that there were many choices for me, but small enough where I felt I could have an impact at the University. As I continued my research into my college options, I discovered it was one of the few schools that would allow me to obtain a teaching certification and major in computer science. Fortunately for me, in my freshman year, when I realized that computer science was not the right major for me, UD allowed me great flexibility in changing my major to Physics Education.
What led you to choose to pursue a major in Physics Education?
High School physics provides so many opportunities for students to address misconceptions, make connections to the other sciences, and be engaged in exciting physical activity and experiments! My father was an industrial arts and computer science teacher. Growing up he emphasized the practical importance of being able to apply physics concepts to accomplish various tasks in the classes he taught. His emphasis on physics connections to his subject matter made a real impact on my teaching philosophy.
What experiences/professors at UD had the most impact on you?
I had two three professors / teachers who made a tremendous impact on my at UD:
Dr. Barnhill was my first physics professor and academic advisor at the University of Delaware. He was the individual who assisted me when changing my major from computer science education to physics education. There were very few physics education majors at the University, but he had a passion for teaching and recognized that my coursework needed to reflect my future endeavors - not in physics research - but education. He opened up many doors for me and encouraged me to continue to persevere despite serious challenges I had in one of my calculus courses.
Dr. Scantlebury was a new addition to the University of Delaware as I was entering my junior and senior years. I was discouraged by what I experienced in one of my field placements. She recognized that I needed a different placement, worked her magic behind the scenes, and obtained a placement for me with a teacher who inspired, challenged, and supported me in my efforts to become an engaging physics teacher.
Finally, my cooperating teacher, Mr. Parlett. The first day I visited his McKean High School classroom I recognized that Dr. Scantlebury had found the perfect placement for me! Mr. Parlett led by example and I was able to learn how a teacher could have a tremendously positive relationship with students, have realistic and high expectations for students, and make every topic in physics relevant to the every-day lives of students by engaging them in rich applications-based activities. Mr. Parlett would go the extra mile with me and guided me through my initial teaching experience by spending countless hours developing lessons, discussing challenges I was facing with students, and taught me how to interact with parents in a proactive manner. He was tremendous!
How has your experience at UD affected your career?
The University of Delaware continues to have a powerful impact on my career and my district. As superintendent of schools, I foster an environment that emphasizes the importance of academic rigor and achievement, but also recognizes that life requires a balanced approach. It is vital that students connect their studies to real life and future aspirations by expanding learning opportunities through travel, internships, and partnerships with schools and universities outside the community. In addition, UD emphasized that co-curricular activities and establishing leadership roles in such organizations provides a sense of fulfillment and also helps contribute back to the University. I recall my involvement and leadership role in UD's sailing club as being a defining experience for me and as it allowed me to contribute to the school community. I believe it is important for high schools to provide such opportunities for students and have continued to expand opportunities for our students.
What previous positions have you held in the science teaching?
I have spent my entire career at Pascack Valley Regional High School District as a: Physics teacher, science supervisor, director of curriculum and superintendent of schools
Have you received any awards or recognition?
New Jersey's Carol Escobar Award for Excellence in Physics Teaching
Featured on "NJ Closeup" for a "Physics & Technology" course that a technology teacher and I co-taught.
New Jersey's Technology Education Association's Award for Supervisor of Excellence
Authored: "The Handy Physics Answer Book" Visible Ink Press
Authored: "Applied Physics" Pearson
Member of: Digital Promise's "League of Innovative Schools"
Invited as one of 100 superintendents by the President to the White House as part of his "Connect Ed" Initiative District continues to receive national attention in our efforts to engage our students in virtual learning days.