Meet Jon Gaffney
Educational reform at NC State University has added a new face to its advocacy efforts: Jon Gaffney, doctoral candidate in physics with a specialization in Physics Education Research (PER).
Currently pursuing his doctorate in Physics Education Research, Gaffney’s research focuses on “how introductory students reason when solving deductive physics problems.” And for the past two years, a STEM Education Initiative Fellowship has supported this research.
Thanks in part to his experiences as a Teaching Assistant and an instructor of Student-Centered Active Learning Environment for Undergraduate Programs (SCALE-UP) physics classes, Gaffney has become an advocate for active engagement learning methods in classrooms, across the educational spectrum. He has served as a consultant for other universities, helping them implement SCALE-UP programs of their own.
During the 2007-2008 academic year, Gaffney participated in Preparing the Professoriate (PTP), a prestigious program that trains doctoral students for future faculty life. In fact, the spotlight that PTP and the University shines on active learning is what attracted Gaffney and guided him through his recent teaching experiences.
“NC State stood out as being one of the best candidates in the nation, both in general terms for the work it had done and also in terms of the fit I would have with it,” Gaffney said.
According to Gaffney, his interest paid off.
“One of the things that I have really appreciated about NC State has been the dedication that there is to education and to learning how to teach an ever-changing population of students,” he said. “Participating in the PTP program was fantastic experience for developing my teaching portfolio.”
In February, Gaffney returned to PTP as a presenter for the seminar Using Instructional Technology -- to rave reviews from the PTP fellows. He also led a discussion about SCALE-UP and effective use of technology in the classroom.
According to Gaffney, the additional teaching opportunities that he participated in during his Master’s work in physics at the University of Pittsburgh helped prepare him for PTP and his future teaching endeavors. While at Pitt, he taught numerous lecture courses at both his university and Duquesne University in Pittsburgh.
But Gaffney’s list of activities does not stop at his research and teaching practice at the University.
“My wife and I are both active at Covenant Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), working with the youth and the educational ministry,” he said. “Additionally, I am active in the national and regional chapters of both the American Association of Physics Teachers (AAPT) and the American Physical Society (APS).”
On campus, Gaffney participates in Graduate Physics Student Association (GPSA) events.
“The GPSA has been a good way of hearing what else is going on in the department – through short presentations by other graduate students – and for getting important advice from faculty members who come as speakers to our meetings,” he added.
Despite all of his diverse undertakings and accomplishments, Gaffney displayed humility in offering advice to fellow grad students.
“I hardly feel that I am in a position to give advice to my peers,” he admitted. “But I think one of the most difficult things to do in graduate school is to find balance and be patient.”
Gaffney added that graduate students are “given incredible tasks and pushed so hard partly so that we can learn how to juggle and balance our lives,” but no one immediately masters that balancing act.
“Be patient,” he said, reminding himself every so often that success takes time and lots of hard work.
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