PKAL Faculty for the 21st Century

James J. Napolitano

What works: Observations from the Field

James Napolitano is Professor of Physics at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.

If a visitor were to come into your classroom/lab-the environment in which you work with students-what impression would s/he leave with?

Thinking and asking questions are used more than watching and taking notes during class time.

What brought you to an interest in "advancing the frontiers of education" and to connecting your research to that work?

I believe that as a faculty member, I have a responsibility to make a positive difference in the intellectual lives of young people. Marrying my research, in both direct and abstract ways, to my teaching is exciting to me, and was an attraction to working at a university.

Were there crises in doing this? What made you persevere?

There are always crises. Seeing the forest for the trees is what makes you perservere.

What connections have been of most value in doing this?

Personnel connections made through my research and through PKA have been particularly valuable.

What kind of institutional culture needs to be in place to nurture careers of faculty actively seeking to integrate their research and teaching?

Universities too often see "research" and "teaching" as separate, disconnected endeavors. "Service" is a third. My philosophy is to avoid spending some fraction of one's time on each, but spend 100% of ones time on all of them. More to the point, institutions should encourage their faculty to bring botht their specific research interests, as well as their problem solving approaches, into the classroom, regardless of the course material or level. This can be hard to do, but with the right encouragement and access to resources, it can be done. I would argue it is our responsibility to get this done.