UTAH STATE SPACE PROFESSOR TAKES HOME UTAH’S CARNEGIE PROFESSOR
OF THE YEAR AWARD
To celebrate the occasion Utah State will be
hosting a celebration in honor of Jan Monday, Dec. 2 from 2:30 to 4 p.m.
in the Eccles Science Learning Center Atrium
The “wave” is known to sports fans the world over to liven the action
when there is a lull in a game, and while Utah State University physics
professor Jan Sojka is a huge sports fan, he uses the “wave” for a
different purpose. As the students in Sojka’s class participate in the
“wave,” they learn something about the simple laws of physics.
“Physics can be a tough subject to teach when
you are teaching a room full of students whose first love isn’t the
subject,” said Sojka. “I have to do something to keep the students awake.
My Scottish accent and a sense of humor helps. But I find what works best
is getting the entire class out of their seats to participate in group
This interactive teaching style is one of the
reasons Sojka is the 2002 Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of
Teaching Utah Professor of the Year. The U.S. Professors of the Year
program salutes the most outstanding undergraduate instructors in the
country. Sojka visited Washington, D.C., this month to receive the honor.
He is the sixth professor from Utah State to receive the award in the past
Sojka believes that interaction with one’s audience
and enthusiasm for the subject go a long way toward bridging the gap
between the interested, the disinterested and the unenlightened.
Sojka’s love for teaching is clear and obvious in his enthusiasm
and energy in the classroom. Sojka volunteered to teach the large
enrollment introductory calculus-based physics class for science and
engineering majors because he wanted to instill his own enthusiasm for
science in others.
“My first upper division physics course was
taught by Jan,” said Jason Sanders, former Utah State student. “His love
for the subject was so strong it was almost tiring. Once in a lecture he
humorously and accurately described the principles of flux by relating it
to bunnies hopping in and out of a garden. His energy at the blackboard
was exciting, he loved the subject and it was contagious.”
involves his students in his large classes, such as his calculus-based
intro to physics, but he also makes time for one-on-one and small group
He is the faculty advisor for the NASA Get
Away Special (GAS) project at Utah State and oversees the entire program.
The GAS team includes interdisciplinary undergraduate students developing
experiments that will fly on the NASA Space Shuttle. Utah State has put
more experiments into space than any other university in the world.
Sojka’s approach to mentoring is hands-off. He is there to advise
the students when needed, but prefers his students to take risks, make
decisions and experience both failure and success.
leadership opportunities for us and teaches us to try new things,
experiment and then learn from our experiences,” said Andrew J. Auman,
student coordinator for GAS.
He spends hours helping, urging,
encouraging and listening to his students’ successes and failures, said W.
Farrell Edwards, professor of physics at Utah State.
Sojka has also
invited many elementary and high schools to participate in the GAS project
the past eight years, involving more than 80 undergraduate students, 200
high school students and more than 800 elementary school students. Sojka
is especially pleased with his relationship with the Shoshone-Bannock High
School in Idaho, which flew the first Native American payload and which
has subsequently flown two more.
“Dr. Sojka and the GAS program
represented a challenge for our Native American students,” said Ed
Galindo, science teacher at Shoshone-Bannock High School. “We had to meet
the very high standards that NASA requires in order to fly our experiment.
Our highly successful first mission would not have been possible if it
weren’t for the personal dedication and enthusiasm of Dr. Sojka and the
Teaching and learning physics can be fun, said Sojka.
And after having been at Utah State since 1978, he said he is in it for
the long haul.
Along with his professor and advisor duties, Sojka
is also the assistant director for the Center of Atmospheric and Space
Sciences, the co-associate director for the Rocky Mountain NASA Space
Grant Consortium and the director for the Bear Lake
Sojka was born in Duns, Berwickshire, Scotland, and
attended Galashiels Academy High School. He furthered his education at The
University of Edinburgh, Lothian, Scotland, where he earned his bachelor’s
degree in physics. He then moved on to University College, London, United
Kingdom, where he received his doctorate in space physics. He currently
resides in Logan with his wife, Susan. They have two daughters.
Council for the Advancement of Support of Education (CASE) established the
Professors of the Year program in 1981 and works in cooperation with the
Carnegie Foundation. This year, the Carnegie Foundation and CASE
recognized winners in 46 states including the District of Columbia, Guam,
Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.
Utah State’s previous Professor
of the Year recipients are: Frances Titchener, history; Ted Alsop,
geography and earth resources; Sonia Manuel-Dupont, English; Mark Damen,
history; and David Lancy, anthropology.
Contact: Jan Sojka (435) 797-2964
Writer: Maren Cartwright (435)
Photos: Donna Barry