A Sense of Belonging
Assistant Professor of Physics
Anika Zima, Bjorn Larson, Mario Gutierrez, Olivia Chisman
Physics majors, graduating in 2015, 2013, 2016, and 2015
These four physics majors are the entire class of Linda McDonald’s Modern Physics class for the Fall 2013 semester. This close-knit group reflected on their relationship with each other, Professor McDonald, and experience in the Physics Department. Hear also from Linda about teaching physics and teaching at North Park.
How did you first connect with Professor McDonald?
Anika: I was a biology major at first and wasn’t happy with it. I missed taking math classes. I talked to my advisor at the time and he introduced me to Linda. The moment she heard I was thinking about becoming a physics major she was super excited. She began talking about physics and what the major entails. Linda was very encouraging and she was the one who convinced me to become physics major.
Bjorn: I first connected with Linda when I had a tour of North Park as I was looking at schools.
Mario: The first time I connected with Professor McDonald was through email during my senior year in high school.
Olivia: I went in to meet with Linda during my sophomore year when I was first thinking of switching my major from nursing to physics. She helped me plan out a schedule that would work to change my major to physics and still finish college in four years.
What is it like to learn physics from Linda?
Anika: Learning from Linda is a new experience every day. She makes physics fun and interesting at the same time. When something is boring she will admit it, but will explains how we need this boring lesson in order to move on to the next exciting thing. Whenever I walk into her classroom I feel welcomed and I know that if I ever needed any help she is there for me.
Mario: Learning from Professor McDonald is challenging but she makes it fun when she relates problems to real life situations, using many applications to solve many problems.
What is unique about your mentoring relationship with Linda?
Bjorn: Because the Physics Department is so small, it is really easy to get help from Linda. She often stays late helping us out with questions, even if we often get off on tangents talking about other science stuff.
Olivia: Linda makes class fun and interesting, and creates an environment of community and family in her classrooms. She is willing to go the extra mile to help us (her students) have the preparation and opportunities to move forward into the careers we are seeking. She has also already helped me to start planning for the future: from looking at summer internships to thinking about graduate school and career options.
What is Professor McDonald helping you accomplish that you didn’t think you could or would?
Mario: Professor McDonald is helping me to accomplish my goal of going to grad school by encouraging me to never give up and to try everything. I never thought that could be possible but now I really believe that I can accomplish this and more.
Anika: I never thought that I would be physics major, let alone enjoy it. She not only teaches us, but she relates those teaching to the real world. Linda is helping us figure out what we want to become and how we can get there. Not only will she help us with our career goals, she will make sure we get there with the best experiences and teaching possible.
What are your future plans?
Bjorn: In the future I would like to pursue engineering. My time here at North Park is helping me make this possible; getting a diverse education helps make me more marketable.
Anika: I am not totally sure what my life plans are at the moment, but Linda and North Park are helping me figure that out!
Mario: My future career is to be in mechanical engineering and eventually work with a big company or start my own company. My North Park experience is making this possible because I am gaining a lot of knowledge. I’m learning how to think critically and analyze every opportunity I have in order to become successful.
Olivia: I think I want to do physics research. The North Park physics program is preparing me well to do this or probably anything else in physics that I might want to do later on.
Linda: I love what I do. I love the elegance of physics; the thrill when the equations actually check out and agree with what you know will happen. I am still amazed and excited every time that happens. And even though I know what the answers should be, I always elate in seeing what else I can find from an experiment or an equation. I love seeing students go, “Wow! It makes sense.”
I have always tried to live by the same values I encourage in my students: hard work; faith that God has a plan for us even if we can’t quite see it now; hard work; the willingness to do what is right, even if it isn’t easy; hard work; having a passion for whatever you do; hard work; pulling together through tough times.
No matter what I may have accomplished at North Park, the one thing I am the most proud of creating is that sense of belonging, of being part of something bigger and more important and lasting. I have not produced as many scholarly works as I would have liked, but I have produced a lot of great physicists and engineers. I haven’t made that big of a difference to the world, but my kids have. And that is important to me.
I have been blessed to find students who appreciate hard work and relish a challenge. I never tire of watching their faces in class; every day I see someone frowning and grimacing as they struggle with some concept—and then, all of a sudden, they smile and nod and I know they got it. Each of these events is a small victory. But over the years those small victories add up. The students don’t notice how much they are changing and growing intellectually, but I get to see it happen every day.
I think it is that ability to share those little epiphanies and victories with the students that builds a relationship. We develop a mutual respect for each other because neither one of us will give up. I won’t quit until the students get it and that seems to help the kids find the will to struggle through until the lights go on.
I think the other part of teaching is getting to know the students. Olivia and I share our love of horses. We are always telling stories of our “babies”, past and present. Mario and I first talked on the phone and we ended up spending most of the time talking about soccer (he is luckily a Manchester United fan). Bjorn is a legacy. His dad was a physics major and his grandparents and great-grandparents went to North Park. It is fun to hear some of the stories of the early days of North Park. Anika sings in a German choir; she works several jobs and likes to shop and she has great taste.
Our kids come from all over the country. They’ve traveled and lived in interesting places in and out of the U.S. They are into music and sports movies and helping people. They have all sorts of pets. They want to do all sorts of things from blowing things up to healing people; from research to graphics design. But what brings us all together is the love of physics.