2002 - Jan Sojka
The "wave" is known to sports fans the world over to liven the action when there is a lull in a game, and while physics professor Jan Sojka is a huge sports fan, he uses the "wave" for a different purpose. As the students in Sojka's class participate in the "wave," they learn something about the simple laws of physics.
"Physics can be a tough subject to teach when you are teaching a room full of students whose first love isn't the subject," said Sojka. "I have to do something to keep the students awake. My Scottish accent and a sense of humor helps. But I find what works best is getting the entire class out of their seats to participate in group demonstrations."
Sojka believes that interaction with one's audience and enthusiasm for the subject go a long way toward bridging the gap among the interested, the disinterested and the unenlightened.
Sojka's love for teaching is clear and obvious in his enthusiasm and energy in the classroom. Sojka volunteered to teach the large enrollment introductory calculus-based physics class for science and engineering majors because he wanted to instill his own enthusiasm for science in others.
"My first upper division physics course was taught by (Dr. Sojka)," said Jason Sanders, former Utah State student. "His love for the subject was so strong it was almost tiring. Once in a lecture he humorously and accurately described the principles of flux by relating it to bunnies hopping in and out of a garden. His energy at the blackboard was exciting; he loved the subject and it was contagious."
Sojka involves his students in his large classes, such as his calculus-based intro to physics, but he also makes time for one-on-one and small group mentoring.
He is the faculty advisor for the NASA Get Away Special (GAS) project at Utah State and oversees the entire program. The GAS team includes interdisciplinary undergraduate students developing experiments that will fly on the NASA Space Shuttle. Utah State has put more experiments into space than any other university in the world.
Sojka's approach to mentoring is hands-off. He is there to advise the students when needed but prefers his students to take risks, make decisions and experience both failure and success.
"Jan provides leadership opportunities for us and teaches us to try new things, experiment and then learn from our experiences," said Andrew J. Auman, student coordinator for GAS.