Interviews

 Interviews with Alumni about their experience in DPA.

John Castellaneta

What is your current position?

I am the Physics teacher at Conrad Schools of Science in Wilmington, DE.  I currently teach AP Physics 1 & 2 and Honors Physics.  I am also an assistant coach for the varsity wrestling team.

 
What made you choose to attend UD? 
I was initially impressed by the reputation of the science and engineering departments but didn’t know that I wanted to attend until I saw the campus, particularly the Green, and Main Street.  After narrowing down my college search to 3 or 4 colleges, I finally made my decision shortly into my second visit to UD when it just clicked that I belonged there. 
 
What led you to choose to pursue a major in Physics Education? 
I was a mechanical engineering major before I decided that I wanted to teach after tutoring a few friends in physics, so teaching physics was a natural choice.  I was also really attracted to the lifestyle of a teacher, including the early hours and summer breaks.  It certainly didn’t hurt that there were plenty of available jobs for physics teachers.
 
What experiences/professors at UD had the most impact on you? 
Some of my favorite memories include using the computer controlled 0.6 m telescope at the Mt Cuba Observatory, meeting tons of new people with the same interests as me, and finally completing a very long few months of student teaching.
 
How has your experience at UD affected your career? 
The rigor of the student teaching program made the transition to teaching professionally incredibly easy.  My physics courses at UD gave me a very strong foundation in the topics that I teach to my students.  I felt extraordinarily prepared for my career thanks to UD.
 
What previous positions have you held in the science teaching?
I’ve also taught a few middle school science courses here and there including Science Olympiad and Forensics.
 

David LaFazia

What is your current position?
Energy Technologies Department Chair at the Owens Campus of Delaware Technical Community College
 
What made you choose to attend UD? 
I grew up without any certainty of funding for college.  Also, proximity to my Family was very important to me (living within 2 hours of my immediate family and with the rest of the LaFazia Clan living around Wilmington, DE).  It was important for me to work while I was attending university, so I was able to maintain my employment connections, as well.  In terms of value, I took advantage of the UD Parallel Program and completed my first year at DTCC's Owens Campus before moving up to the Main Campus in Newark.  PELL grants and various scholarships helped give me a financial leg up--adding to the value of in-state tuition.  The choice to complete my Ed.D. at the University of Delaware was based on my positive undergraduate experiences, the high recommendations of my colleagues who had gone before me, and the prestige of the University.
 
What led you to choose to pursue a major in Biology Education?  [Physics Education]
Originally I wanted to pursue a degree in Electrical Engineering with the idea that I would eventually return to teach at a technical school ten or fifteen years down the road.  My logic for pursuing the Physics Education degree was 1) What am I good at?  and 2) Why wait 10-15 years to teach when, if that's my ultimate goal, I can start teaching right away?  I had taken two years of Physics in high school and excelled in the classes, and I believe I made a smart move by not delaying my entry into the teaching profession.
 
What experiences/professors at UD had the most impact on you? 
My time as an Astronomy Research Assistant under Dr. John Gizis was foundational to my current views on the value of undergraduate research.  Being an officer in the Society of Physics Students was also an excellent preparatory experience for real world interactions in academic settings, and helped to lay the groundwork (among other activities) for leadership in my career.  One of the most defining experiences for me, however, was how welcoming the graduate students in the Physics Department were.  I spoke with them often, and they shared their time and office spaces freely with me as mentors.  Among them I found those whose views both strengthened and challenged my own.  
 
What previous positions  have  you held in the science teaching?
I worked at Cape Henlopen High School as a Physics Instructor (crossing into Chemistry, Earth Science, and Astronomy) from 2005 to 2011.  Beyond this, working at Delaware Technical Community College has been my only other full-time professional science position.
 
Have you received any awards or recognition? 
In 2015, I received Phi Theta Kappa's Horizon Advisor Award.  
 
How has your experience at UD affected your career? 
Beyond aiding me towards development as an educational leader, my UD network has been vital to my growth and awareness of professional opportunities over the years.  The friendships and relationships I formed during my undergraduate years have continued on and I am still seeing the fruit of those relationships over a decade later.I also had my first opportunity this past April to present (as an educational forum presenter) at an international conference through Phi Theta Kappa's NerdNation 2016 event.
 

William McWatters

What is your current position?  
Teacher of Physics and Department Chair, Octorara Area High School
 
What made you choose to attend UD?
I was a college drop out mounting tires in an auto repair facility.  The Dean of Admissions (Bruce Walker) at the time knew me because I coached his son in basketball.  He orchestrated my return to college, helped me with funding and generally was very supportive of my return.
 
What led you to choose to pursue a major in Physics Education?
I did research that indicated physics teachers were in high demand.  I chose physics without ever taking a physics course, simply because I knew I would find employment upon completion.
 
What experiences/professors at UD had the most impact on you?
Maurice Barnhill and Norbert Mulders were my mentors throughout my physics education.  Kate Scantlebury was instrumental in my professional development.  Working as a lab instructor in the physics department convinced me I could be an effective teacher.
 
How has your experience at UD affected your career?
I have completed a masters in physics and an EdD. in education.  None of this would have been possible without UD.
 
What previous positions  have  you held in the science teaching?  
Department chair.  Adjunct professor at several local community colleges in physics.
 
Have you received any awards or recognition?
Octorara heart of Learning Teacher of the Year Award.  Octorara Golden apple award recipient.  Pennsylvania State teacher of the year finalist.
 

Sara La Mar

I am currently a physics teacher at North Shore High School in Glen Head NY. I am also a adviser of our school's FIRST robotics program and the assistance cross country coach.
 
Choosing UD was a no-brainer for me. I loved the campus atmosphere and that it offered a wide variety of major options in the STEM field.
 
After a semester as an engineering major, I knew that science was one of my passions, but that physics was my specific interest. I had previously thought that teaching was a possible major when I started at UD, and turned out to be the perfect fit.
 
The opportunity that I had working in a physics lab with Dr. Barry Walker, a physics professor, for two summer internships was life changing. It was a unique opportunity where I had the chance to experience experimental physics as well as work on college level curriculum. The field experiences that I had with middle and high schools in Delaware impacted me greatly as well. Working with the same cooperating teacher over three semesters made my transition into the classroom easy. The science education program equipped me with every tool needed to become a successful educator and a lifelong learner.
 
I constantly find myself drawing from the experiences and opportunities that the science education department gave me. The support from my professors and cooperating teachers during my four years has made my journey in education a successful one.
 
I started at North Shore the September after I graduated from Delaware and have been there ever since. I am a proud to be a Blue Hen!
 

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.