Steven Pollock - Student Introduction

Remarks by Akaxia Cruz
Former student of Steven Pollock
2013 Outstanding Doctoral and Research Universities Professor of the Year

Hello! My name is Akaxia Cruz, and I am a senior studying physics and mathematics at the University of Colorado Boulder with the expectation to graduate in May 2014.

Two semesters ago, I had Professor Steven Pollock for Classical Mechanics and Mathematical Methods I. Being a sophomore in physics, I had only just begun to realize the complexities that I would soon face.

Plenty of the upperclassman had mentioned Professor Pollock to me previously, saying how he was an excellent professor and that I should take a class with him if I ever got the chance. Professor Pollock challenged me in a way that I had never experienced before. He always encouraged me to delve deeper into a problem and to try to explain to him exactly what I was doing while solving problems in his weekly homework help sessions. At first, this was intimidating and very challenging, but once I realized that he was really trying to help me reach a new level of understanding, I knew that it would only help me to grow—even if the in-between was difficult.

Classical mechanics is definitely not my favorite area of physics (given my overpowering love for quantum mechanics), but if anyone can make the topic interesting and, dare I even say fascinating, it’s Professor Pollock (in fact, this was my motto throughout the course). His philosophical insights into the wide range of topics we covered in the first semester of classical mechanics always motivated excitement in lecture.

In 2003, Professor Pollock proposed the integration of the learning assistant program and the use of interactive tutorials for CU’s introductory physics courses, based on previous work done at the University of Washington. The LA program is still alive and thriving at CU today and the department’s physics tutorials continue to push students to see concepts in new ways.

Professor Pollock announced to my classical mechanics and mathematical methods class that applications for the LA program were being accepted by the department of physics. After speaking with Professor Pollock during an afternoon help session about the program, I decided to apply. They say that you don’t really understand something until you can fluidly teach it to someone else, and I feel as though I witnessed this first-hand during my semester as an LA for the Physics of Sound and Music.

I think being an LA has been one of the most rewarding experiences I have had in life thus far. Taking a course on how to teach definitely opened my eyes into how to LEARN. The LA experience left me armed with metacognition and with the insight of multiple intelligence theory, an idea that continuously amazes me from day-to-day as I work with students taking introductory electricity and magnetism. The LA program is something that I cherish at CU because of the way that it explores new avenues for learning and understanding the concepts of physics, and I am incredibly grateful to Professor Pollock for bringing this program to our department.

I feel that I have become a much stronger physicist and learner thanks to Professor Pollock, and I can’t emphasize enough the impact he has made on my life.

With that said, I am so honored being here today to watch my mentor, adviser and one of the most creative, innovative and truly unique minds I have ever known receive the national U.S. Professor of the Year award for Doctoral and Research Universities. Please help me in welcoming Professor Steven Pollock.