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Bridget Gormalley

Alumna Returns to Campus to Teach Physics

11/29/17

After Bridget Gormalley ’09 graduated summa cum laude in physics from MCLA, she headed to Columbia University in New York, N.Y., to earn a master’s degree in applied physics, and went on to teach science and robotics at St. Joseph Central High School in Pittsfield, Mass. Recently, she was pleased to see an opportunity arise here on campus, to teach as a physics instructor.

It wasn’t the first time she had returned to the College after graduation. Gormalley previously worked as an adjunct lab instructor at MCLA during the 2013-14 academic year, when she filled in for a physics professor on sabbatical.

“I thought it would be a good fit. I really liked how, at MCLA, there is an emphasis on quality learning through quality teaching,” she said. “When I was being interviewed for this position, I would ask the person interviewing me why they chose to be at MCLA. Inevitably, the answer would be the students. I now can understand why this is: I find our students to be very personable and engaged … [and] many clearly want to better themselves through education.”

As she contemplated her own education and what major to select prior to beginning college at MCLA, Gormalley took into account that she particularly enjoyed mathematics and its applications. “So physics seemed like a natural choice. I wanted to take physics in my junior year of high school but I couldn’t,” she explained. “Instead, my high school guidance counselor gave me a physics textbook to read over the summer. Between that and taking advanced placement calculus, and seeing how mathematics could be applied to describe all manner of phenomenon in the natural world, I was hooked on physics.”

Teaching, she explained, “has allowed me to take my love of learning and problem solving and translate that into helping students not only learn about STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) topics, but to apply these topics in different ways, work toward achieving their goals, and improving on skills they will use throughout their lives.”

Gormalley also teaches an “Introduction to Engineering” course that has a mix of students. While some are considering engineering as a profession, others are taking it to fulfill a science requirement.

“When we started, only one student had ever programmed, and only about half had ever taken a physics class,” she explained. “They now are comfortable with the basics of programming, electronics, and mechanics, and are working in groups to build, test, and program their robots. It has been a very rewarding class. It is great to see them taking the lessons from the semester, synthesizing that material, and applying these skills to solve the problem at hand.”

What are the most important things she hopes her students learn from her? “Critical thinking and problem solving strategies are the hallmark of any STEM course,” she explained. “These also are skills that students can take and apply to any endeavor. Long after they have forgotten the equations or terminology, I hope these skills stay with them.”