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2013 Dean’s Award: Kristine Callan

April 19, 2013
Kristine Callan

Dean’s Award for Excellence in Teaching

Kristine Callan, a Ph.D. candidate in Physics, earned a B.S. in Physics and Mathematics from Pacific University and an M.A. in Physics from Duke University. Kristine studies small networks of chaotic systems, both experimentally and numerically, and devises ways of determining global network properties from local dynamical measurements.

Kristine's faculty nominators are unanimous in their description of Kristine as a stellar teacher whose passion for teaching is infectious. One nominator states that she "has an exceptional talent for teaching physics and stands out as the best graduate instructor in the Department of Physics over the last two decades that I have been here." Another agrees, saying that Kristine "is the one graduate student who stands out in her efforts to become an excellent teacher." As part of her efforts to become an excellent teacher, Kristine attended workshops on Team Based Learning (TBL) through the Duke Center for Instructional Technology, enthusiastically integrating the concepts into her classes, thinking critically, and sharing this information with other teachers. One faculty member also comments on the scope of Kristine's teaching, saying "Even without considering the quality of Kristine's teaching, the quantity she has engaged in at Duke makes her very unusual among our graduate students. It is rare that we have a student who can carry out cutting-edge research in the lab and at the same time devote so much time and energy to teaching. Fortunately for our department, she loves teaching physics and seeing students succeed in learning physics."

Kristine's scholarship is on a par with her teaching ability, according to a faculty nominator, "Kristine made impressive achievements in the area of nonlinear dynamics of opto-electronic oscillators," which she published in Physical Review Letters and in two review articles. The nominator goes on to remark that "While Ms. Callan made strides as a budding researcher, it was clear that research alone was not satisfying. Her real passion is teaching and she very much missed having regular contact with students and thinking about pedagogy." This led her to take a leave from the program for two academic years to teach advanced placement physics in all-girl school in Boston, returning to Durham in the summers to continue her research. The benefits of this experience were also shared with others, as one faculty member says, "After her experience teaching physics at a private high school she brought with her to Duke a deep knowledge of physics education research," adding "I have personally benefited greatly from her advice."

Kristine's engagement with cutting-edge pedagogy is translated into successful teaching, as one faculty member relates, "I consistently heard high praise for her teaching and for her passion for teaching, the positive impact on students (especially students from underrepresented groups), and her dedication to her courses. Kristine would often try out new ideas, reflecting upon them and modifying them to suit the needs of our students." She is also described as an advocate for students, "an advocate for giving them the tools they need to solve problems on their own and an advocate for removing needless suffering and frustration in the process." Her advocacy is undoubtedly related to her ability to empathize with her student's struggles to understand physics, and about which a faculty member says "Her approach is always to try to see instruction from the point of view of the student, and she is willing to go to extreme lengths to make sure every student has the best and most productive experience possible." In her teaching statement, Kristine says of her approach "I try to see the class from the student's perspective by repeatedly reminding myself of the challenges involved in learning." Her approach also extends beyond her department through her involvement in outreach efforts to students in the Durham public school system and mentoring in mathematics and science programs.

Her passion for teaching is summed up best in the opening statement of her teaching statement, which is "I love teaching physics." She goes on to say that her return to graduate school has given her time to reflect on the kind of teacher she wants to be, and describing that teacher as "the kind who shows her students that physics is both a fascinating and accessible subject, uses research-based methods to create an engaging learning environment, and fosters a love for learning and pursuing challenges." That she can expect continued success is evident in the comments of the departmental faculty, her own aspirations, and in the words of students in her classes, one of whom expresses that "Kristine Callan is one of the most amazing teachers I have ever had. She is an asset to this department, always punctual, prepared, and she is a fantastic teacher. The students in this class look forward to having class with her," or, as one student says succinctly, "Kristine rocks!"