Graduate Teaching Award: Philip A. Fernandes

On June 10, 2014 by Grad Forum

fernandes_thumbnail_2The Graduate Studies Teaching Award is awarded annually to the graduate teaching assistants who best exemplify the qualities of college educators. One of this year’s recipients is Philip A. Fernandes, a fifth-year physics graduate student whose passion for teaching began long before he joined the Dartmouth community in 2009.

“Prior to arriving at Dartmouth, I had done some work as a college and high school tutor for physics and mathematics. I also worked for the San Diego Community College District where I helped adult students prepare to take the GED exam, as well as in a classroom with adults with brain injuries,” says Fernandes. He continues to gain teaching experience at Dartmouth as a teaching assistant (TA) for a number of undergraduate courses that focus on mechanics, electricity, and magnetism.

Fernandes is a veteran of the United States Marine Corps and acknowledges that the leadership skills he learned in the armed forces have helped in the classroom. This is apparent in his teaching statement in which he says that, “First and foremost, it is critical that I build rapport with my students… As a specific example, by the end of our first physics lab, I strive to know every student’s name, major, year of graduation, and perhaps even one other class they are taking. On the second day of class I can ask a student, by name, how their organic chemistry class is going and whether their sophomore year is more difficult than their first year.” This technique pays off for Fernandes, who says, “I have had students tell me that by the second class they already felt comfortable coming to me with physics questions, because it was clear that I cared about them and their success in introductory physics.”

In addition to his own thesis research and work in the classroom, Fernandes remains involved in various outreach programs, including the Dartmouth Graduate Veterans Association. He is also a department representative on the Graduate Student Council and volunteers in outreach activities at local middle schools. His own teaching mentors are physics and astronomy professors, Yorke Brown and James LaBelle. According to Fernandes, “Though they have distinctly different teaching styles, both of these professors clearly place their students and their teaching as their top priority, and have been instrumental in my development as a teacher.” He also credits the recent course on Communicating Science by visitor Alan Alda (of the Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science at Stony Brook University) with enhancing his communication and teaching skills.

Although he does not specifically see a teaching position in his future, Fernandes acknowledges, “Having refined teaching skills [is] very useful in the scientific community.” He continues, “The skills needed to teach complex topics to students are the same skills used to effectively communicate complex scientific concepts to the general public, and I certainly foresee the need to be able to effectively communicate my research to others.”

When asked what is the one thing he enjoys most about teaching, Fernandes refuses to point to just one. Instead, he says, “Physics is a notoriously difficult subject, and I love helping students reach that moment of clarity in which the concepts click within their minds.” He also points to knowledge of physics as “useful for developing problem-solving, critical thinking, logic, and analysis skills… Students often have very insightful questions which really push me to understand material at a level I otherwise might not have.”

You can read more about Fernandes and his own thesis research here. A well-earned congratulations to Fernandes, who received his award at the Graduate Studies Graduation Reception on Saturday, June 7!

by Jeanine Amacher


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