Passion for science, love of students make Brosing a top teacherJenni Luckett | Editor
“It was more challenging and interesting, or so I thought.”
It wasn’t until several years alter that she realized her career trajectory was taking her away from the lab anyway (“A lot of staff scientists don’t actually do the science,” she explains) and she started looking for other options. A teaching position was the first offer.
“Once I started, I just loved it,” Brosing said.
Beyond the lecture
Back at her house, Brosing offers water, tree-fresh apples and occasional advice (“You know, I should probably go down there and tell them where the poison oak is,” she realizes, mid-experiment).
The atmosphere is casual but efficient. Students jot down measurements and quick equations in their composition notebooks, in between gossip and teasing. They call her “Dr. Brosing,” not Juliet, but they make friends with her husband and recently rescued long-haired dachshund, Walter.
Brosing isn’t actually teaching the course this year, but she hosts out of tradition and experience (and, of course, the convenient possession of a couple potato guns).
Through her 25 years at Pacific, she has had an integral role in moving the Physics Department to its current project-based curriculum. There are few lectures in the program, and every upper-level course features a lab component (a rarity in most physics programs). Pacific is one of the original implementers of physics education research (scientific studies of how people learn and understand physics) in the undergraduate classroom.
What that means, ultimately, is that experiments like the potato gun project are the rule, not the exception. Students in the classical mechanics class also will conduct experiments on thrill rides at Oaks Amusement Park.
The modern physics course, meanwhile, is taught entirely in the context of health applications, thanks to a grant Brosing received to re-write the curriculum. She puts her background in biology to good use in that course, where students conduct experiments to identify radiation sources, much in the way a medical scan does, or to treat a mysterious ailment with radiation.
It’s the same content as a traditional modern physics course, but the projects have a medical bent that provide students with real-world application in a field that interests many of Pacific’s health professions-bound undergarduates.
It also works, says John Hayes, former dean of the College of Arts & Sciences. In his letter of support for Brosing’s award, he references a national study of the effectiveness of physics education.
“…There is an average increase in understanding of only 17 percent when the force and motion concept is taught in a traditional introductory physics lecture environment,” he wrote. “Studies of two other teaching methods show average increases of 34 percent and 41 percent. Dr. Brosing, in contrast, achieves a remarkable average increase of 72 percent.”
Context and interest matter, Brosing says.
“There is real value in these types of projects,” she says. “They are learning the same physics, but in a context. They will retain more. They learn other valuable skills. And they have fun, they really get into it.”
Where are the girls?
When it’s time to shoot the potato gun, Brosing encourages Laura, one of the few women in the class, to step up.
Nationally, the number of physics majors is small: Fewer than .3 percent of all undergraduate degrees conferred in the United States are in physics. Among those, the number of women graduates is miniscule.
It’s been that way as long as Brosing can remember.