Dr. Maggie Sherer, department head of physics and mathematics spoke with The Hilltop Monitor in the Physics Lounge on the top floor of White Science – where you can usually find her helping a student with homework. If not, she’s most likely working on astronomy research or teaching math, physics, astrobiology and a plethora of other classes.
When asked about why she came to William Jewell College, Sherer spoke on her love for small colleges, as well as her love for the students and faculty here at Jewell.
“So, I did my undergraduate work at a small college very similar to Jewell. It’s in Virginia, but it had about 900 students and it was very small and I majored in math and physics. And then I went on to do my graduate work at the University of North Carolina, and there I got a Ph.D. in physics but my specialty was astronomy. When I graduated I knew I wanted to teach at a small school. I really loved the education I got, and so I wanted to come to a small school so that’s what I applied to. I applied all over the country to small liberal arts colleges that were looking for physics faculty. And Jewell was one of them, and when I got there I really loved the department when I came to interview, and I really loved the students,” said Sherer.
Sherer knew she loved math, but even she hated physics in high school. She also experienced those difficulties in deciding on a career path with which college students are familiar.
“I always loved math. I started college as a math major, and my first year of college I was just a math major and I enjoyed it and for my math – well actually back up. My senior year of high school I had to take physics, and I hated my physics teacher. He was just a terrible human being, so I thought I hated physics, but for the math major I had to take physics. So my sophomore year, I took my first physics class and I loved it. It was team taught by both physics teachers there, and it was really lab oriented and we learned by doing, and I just really loved physics with them. So somewhere after the second exam, one of the them came up to me and asked me ‘what is your major’ and I was like ‘well it’s math’ and he was like ‘well you should also be a physics major’ and I said ‘okay!’ So I decided to be a physics major, and I really loved it. I loved that it was applying math to things, but even then I still didn’t know what I wanted to do. It wasn’t until after my junior year that I decided I wanted to go to graduate school because I had really liked astronomy. I liked how that took all the areas of physics and applies it to stars, so that it takes thermodynamics and mechanics and everything and applied it to one system. Because I was so late in the game, I took a year off between undergraduate and grad school, but decided that [astronomy] is what I really wanted to do,”said Sherer.
Sherer blames her mother for her passion for mathematics.
“So my mom and I are identical human beings. My mom was also a math major in college and my mom was a math and science teacher. And so my mom and I would just always geek out – like when I would have math competitions we’d, you know, just be at home doing math for fun. The rest of my family thinks we’re nuts. They’re supportive, they just think we’re crazy. So yeah, my mom was always really supportive of that. My dad is more of a history type of person, so he thinks its nice that we know all this he just isn’t really helpful with it,” Sherer said.
From astronomy, to physics, to math, Sherer has an impressive array of interests. However, her favorite passion of all is teaching.
“I mean, yes, I love physics but more fundamentally I love teaching, which I guess is why I like teaching CTIs, in the core so much. And I do teach a lot in the core, I teach way more in the core than I teach physics classes. Right now I’m teaching a CTI math class but I also teach astrobiology and astronomy in the core, and I started teaching some of the data science classes. I taught the intro to data science class last semester. Fundamentally, I just think it’s fun to teach people new things,” said Sherer.
If you want to take a class from a professor who loves to teach more than anything, take a CTI with Sherer, or take a page from her book and choose to study physics.