Biographies: University of Alabama

Penni Wallace, 2012-2013

Penni WallaceMy name is Penni Wallace, and I wanted to build bombs when I grew up. This came about after writing my junior year research paper on the Manhattan Project, not from some anti-social behavior. Add that in with Mrs. Cumberland, and it had all the makings of a perfect storm. Mrs. Cumberland was my chemistry teacher, and she was awesome. There was none better. She was the first teacher who ever let me leave a room without knowing the answers. It infuriated me. It made me love science. Her class also gave me the skills that increased my ACT score to such a level that earned me a full academic scholarship to Mississippi State University.

Once I enrolled at MSU in 1994, I kept floundering around, not knowing exactly what it was I wanted to do with my life, and it all came back to the only subject I had ever truly enjoyed-chemistry. I enrolled in the Secondary Science-Chemistry program at MSU and soon found myself in the first physics course I had ever taken. My major soon changed to Chemistry-Physics Secondary Science. I earned my Bachelors degree from Mississippi State in 1998 and immediately moved to Tuscaloosa, Alabama, where I married my high school sweetheart.

My first teaching assignment had me teaching physics, not chemistry, which is all I ever wanted to teach. I had only double majored in physics because my advisor told me it would make me more “marketable”. Little did I know I would soon forget all about chemistry! With four years of teaching in the city schools in Tuscaloosa, I taught Conceptual Physics, physical science, and Pre-International Baccalaureate chemistry. I also graduated with a Masters degree from the University of Alabama.

After four years with the city schools, I moved to the county schools, where I have taught for ten years. Many teachers have left our school, so I have gone from being the low man on the totem pole teaching physical science all day ten years ago to being one of only 12 teachers in the state of Alabama who taught physics all day last year. I was only of the truly lucky ones who was able to spend all day teaching a subject I loved.

As the only physics teacher at my school, I saw my responsibilities increase. My participation in grants was expected. I participated in a number of large grants with the engineering department at the University of Alabama. With the GK-12 grant, I had a university graduate student in Chemical Engineering working several hours a week with my students, developing labs, tutoring, and teaching. In the Building Alabama grant funded by the U.S. Department of Education, I worked with other physics teachers to develop physics lessons aimed at increasing K-12 awareness in engineering. Most recently, I served as Lead Science Teacher for my school district after we received a grant from A+ College Ready, a National Math and Science Initiative (NMSI) program. This grant more than doubled the number of AP courses taught in our schools.

I love teaching physics. I love being able to take a subject that scares most of my students and make it something that has real-world applications. We need more teachers who will challenge students to think outside the box, to not just tell students the answers. I am truly blessed to be able to spend my days at the University of Alabama, talking to students about teaching physics as the first-ever Teacher In Residence. Roll Tide!