Back to School for Our Alumni Profs - by Emily Mamula '15

Over the summer I got the chance to talk with Julianna Connelly Stockton ('06) and Nathan Karst ('07), two Olin alumni who continued on to grad school in order to teach at the college level. Julianna is currently an Assistant Professor at Sacred Heart University in Fairfield, Connecticut, while Nathan is now an Assistant Professor right next door at Babson. Both are teaching Mathematics. I wanted to get their insights on the decision to pursue a career in education after Olin.

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Nathan with brother Casey ('13).

Did you always want to teach? If not, when did you start?

"I started to really enjoy teaching while I was at Olin," Nathan told me. "Being a NINJA was a great introduction, because I got to spend a lot of time working with individuals. Teaching a bigger group of people is a lot of fun, too. But I probably would have been intimidated if that had been my first experience."

Unlike some who choose teaching later in life, Julianna had been interested from a young age. Somewhere there are pictures of her at age 5, hosting classes for stuffed animals. She considered working in industry and then transitioning into education, but a semester abroad taking math classes helped her decide to pursue math education outright. From that point, she completed her PhD in a Math Education program at Columbia, so she could teach math and be really good at it.

What do you like about teaching?

One of Julianna's favorite parts (so far) has been working with students in an environment that's moving away from traditional teaching and more toward inquiry-based learning, much like we do at Olin.

For Nathan, there are many 'favorite parts' of teaching.  "The most enjoyable experience in teaching is the moment when you see a student really internalize an idea. But if this is the ultimate destination, then there's a lot of planning that goes into getting there, and I really enjoy this process as well," Nathan explained.   "I put a lot of thought into framing material in a way that my students will enjoy learning. I teach mathematics, and usually the first thing I hear after I tell someone this fact is 'eh, I hate math' or (in close second place) 'oh, I was never very good at math.' I think both of these stem from the fact that people think mathematics is the same as tough arithmetic or memorizing the quadratic formula. But, for me at least, applied mathematics is much more about critical thinking, model-building and interpreting results from analysis, and I think a lot of students who think of themselves as poor mathematics students are actually naturally talented in these areas. Convincing students of this is also one of my favorite parts of my job."
How did you end up teaching at your current schools?

Nathan felt that Babson presented a unique opportunity. "When you interview for any job, you come away with a high degree of uncertainty as to what the culture of the place is like. After all, both you and your potential employer are going through a lot of effort to put on a good face for the process, and that necessarily covers up some of the rougher bits. For me, Babson was much more of a known quantity. I had taken courses there as an undergraduate, spent a good bit of time on campus, and had a fair idea what the Babson educational experience was like. I appreciate the fact that Babson, like Olin, has a narrow focus.   I think this helps unite the community around a single theme and makes a student's time at the institution unique. I have a brother who will be a senior at Olin next year and a lot of friends and colleagues that are still around from my time there, so working right next to Olin has been really nice."

Julianna, on the other hand, was looking for a place with an environment that was open to and interested in her background in math. Sacred Heart fit the bill and also gave her an opportunity to work with students who want to be math educators and teach a wide range of classes. There's also an openness to change and a growing emphasis on critical thinking, which she likens to the Olin philosophy. She's currently serving as a Junior Faculty Rep for a new innovation committee at the school.


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Juliana on vacation in Japan.
 
How do you think Olin helped you get where you are today?

Julianna feels that Olin taught her things about how people learn that she uses daily in her classroom. She's been involved in a committee that focuses on curriculum revision. And now, looking back, she really appreciates the Olin faculty and what they do. It's become apparent just how hard the job is, the work they have to put in to keep things fluid. And they're great role models for doing what you do with passion. Becoming a professor herself has taught her just how back-breaking the work behind it is.

"I think there are two really important components here -  exposure to fantastic teachers and the opportunity to do undergraduate research,"  Nathan summarized.  "Having so many stellar professors during my time at Olin was and continues to be a big motivator for me. I know how good classes can be, and that helps me push myself to work harder at it. I can (and do) think to myself, 'Well this person would probably do it this way, and this person would probably do it this way, so how do I want to do it?' But I wouldn't be where I am today without having done research at Olin, too. It's an important part of academic life, and getting hooked early helped convinced me that this was the line of work for me. And for a person like me, whose grades weren't anything to write home about during college, undergrad research was a great differentiator when applying to graduate school."

Many thanks to Nathan and Julianna for continuing the Olin mission of bringing innovation to education!



Posted in: Alumni Speak