Biographies: Cornell University

Leanne Wells, 2007-2008

WellsI am convinced that I developed my interest in the physical world as a child climbing trees, falling out of trees, playing stickball with all the kids on the block, and generally playing outside all the time. I believe that studying physics should be as interesting as experiencing physics and that schools should be places to heighten curiosity not quash it.

I graduated with physics and mathematics degrees from Salisbury University in Maryland and a Master's of Science in Mathematics from Clemson University in South Carolina. Not knowing what to do next, I joined the Peace Corps and was sent to Botswana to teach mathematics, electronics, and physics. First as a volunteer and then as a teacher at an international school, I spent nearly five years discovering the joys and difficulties of teaching. Teaching physics in Africa without much equipment and limited prior knowledge in the student population (none of my students had flown in a plane and most had never seen one - even overhead) developed in me the understanding that learning the underlying concepts through experience and investigation far outweighed remembering which equation of motion to use when.

Upon returning to the States, I worked for Miami-Dade County Public Schools as a lead teacher for a math and science program for at-risk kids. A deep interest in the nature of the specialized knowledge necessary for good teaching has led me to pursue a PhD in Mathematics, Science, and Learning Technologies at Florida International University (FIU). Along with being a doctoral candidate, I am currently a grant writer and director of two mathematics and science education research projects at FIU. I also teach secondary and elementary courses in instructional methods for teaching mathematics. My doctoral research focuses on identifying and describing exceptional pedagogical content knowledge in the upper high school mathematics courses. I look forward to my tenure as Teacher in Residence at FIU and to have my work once again touching the classroom.

Jorge Gibert, 2008-2009

GibertWhen you grow up in a place where the choices are few, deciding your professional career isn't that difficult. At the end of high school, I was given three choices: Math, Chemistry or Physics. Although I loved mathematics and already had quite a few accidents mixing and boiling medicines, I knew "a Physicist was what I wanted to be". In 1989, after wasting one year in the army, I entered the "School of Pure Physics" at the Universidad de Oriente, in Santiago de Cuba. I spent five years, 900 km from my hometown, studying physics and mathematics "USSR style". Most of the time I spent studying for exams and writing lab reports I was either hungry or reading under the light of a candle. Despite all the obstacles, I was determined to be the first college graduate of my family. I specialized in experimental biophysics but I defended my thesis in Physical Metallurgy. Through my years as a university student, I realized that the best way to learn something was by teaching it, and teaching it well. My peers and I didn't have pedagogical skills but we tried very hard to get our message through.

I graduated in July 1994 with the US equivalent to a master in physics. Two months later I found myself jobless. When I try to get a job as a teacher, I was told that "I was not qualified". Then I was given a job as a "construction coordinator". One year later, I started a Master's in mathematics which I had to abandon because I won a visa lottery to come to the USA.

Once in USA, I worked as dishwasher in New Mexico and then as ramp agent at Miami International Airport. I started a master in physics at FIU in August 1998. I can describe my first two and a half years in the program as "painful". Because I had huge family to support in Cuba, I had to work full-time while going to school. In the mean time, I completed all the state requirements for the teacher's certification in physics and mathematics. From 2001 to 2004 I taught AP and honors physics at Miami Sunset Senior High. During that time I also worked in my Master's thesis. This double experience helped a lot since I was able to mentor my own students in my Biophysics lab at FIU. In 2004, right after obtaining my Master's degree, I received a scholarship and started my PhD. My doctoral research focuses on Biophysics of the human visual system, developing a method to determine the distribution of light in the human retina. At the moment I'm Ph. D. candidate in the final stages of my dissertation. I look forward to my tenure as Teacher in Residence at FIU and to have my work once again touching the classroom. Learning and teaching has always been my passion and I can't find myself doing something else.

Diane Crenshaw, 2009-2010

Crenshaw I grew up in Decatur, GA, just outside Atlanta. My parents raised me by creating a safe space and giving me the freedom to pursue my own interests and learn from my own experiences. They let me travel with my friends, spend the summer in Sweden, throw social gatherings, etc. They also pushed envelopes when it came to gender roles. My mother worked and earned a PhD while my father was a stay at home dad. The safety and freedom I grew up with allowed me to question the world we live in and follow my passions.

The school system in Decatur was segregated. The student population was about half white and half black, and the white students were tracked into honors courses while the black students were tracked into regular courses. I attended the one public high school in my district. It was there that I fell in love with math and science, because those subjects taught me how to ask questions and find answers. Also, the problems in math and science were much easier to solve than those in the social sciences.

After high school I moved from Georgia to Massachusetts to go to Mount Holyoke College, one of the first women's colleges in the country. I majored in physics and participated in three NSF Physics Research Experiences for Undergrads at Georgia Tech, UT Austin, and in Montpellier, France. Because Mount Holyoke is a progressive, internationally diverse liberal arts college, I took many radicalizing courses. My most life-changing experience was a study abroad trip to Mexico.While I thought the trip was just a language program, it was actually about the Zapatista Revolution, a present-day revolution of indigenous people fighting for autonomy from the Mexican government. We stayed with the Zapatistas and slept on a cement floor. I saw the horrors of the discrimination and poverty they faced, but also the successes of their empowerment. When I returned to Mount Holyoke I picked up a minor in Latin American studies, and later studied in Costa Rica and Argentina. By the end of college I had a deep passion for social justice. I decided the greatest impact I could make was to empower those who have been discriminated against, so I became a teacher with a program called Teach for America.

After graduating, I moved to Miami, FL to teach high school physics in an urban school called Turner Tech. My students were African American, Haitian, and Hispanic, and products of the socioeconomic achievement gap. Academically, they were several years behind their affluent counterparts. Nevertheless, I taught my students to observe the world around them, ask questions, and find answers, with the hope that they apply their skills to societal issues as well. The hardest part of my job was convincing students to care, especially the ones who had already lost hope. My second year at Turner Tech I had 160 students. I am proud to say that 90 of them were in the AP Physics course I had designed and started for them. My students will not be stuck in a poverty cycle; most of them have gone on to college, including one who enrolled at Mount Holyoke this fall.

Though I do not think there is a job as fulfilling as teaching high school, I want to make a bigger difference. During my year as TIR at Florida International University, I am excited to learn, teach, and advocate that all children deserve an excellent education. For every teacher we reach, as many as 160 students will be impacted, and those students will be the ones to change the world.