A Passion for Teaching Rekindled

Meeting Notes

A Passion for Teaching Rekindled

American Association of Physics Teachers (AAPT) 2020 Winter Meeting

Isabel Montero. Photo by Celeste Montero.When I arrived in Orlando, Florida, for the 2020 AAPT Winter Meeting, I was greeted by the sight of a young boy swaggering out of the Caribe Royale lobby doors like he owned the resort. In that moment, I wished I had even an ounce of the confidence that he possessed.

My nervousness about attending my first national AAPT meeting was palpable, compounded by the fact that I was the only undergraduate student from the University of North Georgia in attendance. Although I’m typically outgoing at conferences, I had never been to an event this large and was worried I might get swept up in all the commotion.

My goals for the conference were simple: to learn more about physics education research and, hopefully, narrow down a research project for my remaining undergraduate semesters. While I did achieve those goals, I was unprepared for the number of serendipitous events that also happened over the conference weekend.

At the AAPT Tweet-Up, I met a professor who would later introduce me to undergraduate student Carissa Giuliano, president of the Adelphi University SPS chapter. This introduction was the beginning of a rewarding friendship that benefited the constituents of both our chapters and led to a Winter Meeting weekend centered around the Society of Physics Students and outreach.

I then attended the AAPT Committee on Diversity in Physics meeting, where I observed how to run a coherent, successful, and interesting meeting while treating each person with respect and validating their concerns and ideas. Implementing these skills with my SPS chapter resulted in one of the most fluid semesters ever for our officers and members. In fact, there’s been such a significant improvement in meeting attendance and member cohesion that it’s hard to believe it’s even the same organization as before—and we gained all of these incredible new characteristics by putting into practice what I observed at this meeting.

I also had the opportunity to network with national SPS figures, including SPS director Brad Conrad and programs manager Kayla Stephens, and was invited to volunteer at the Students Exploring Engineering and Science (SEES) outreach event on the final day of the conference. Alongside other undergraduate STEM students, I led hands-on activities on exciting topics in physics and astronomy for young future scientists. This was decidedly the most impactful day of the conference for me.

The young students’ excitement during the activities was infectious. I often think we physics and astronomy undergraduates become so overwhelmed by our majors that we forget that we were once in these kids’ shoes. That innocent passion and developing curiosity was what propelled many of us into what we do today. The SEES event reminded me where my passion for physics originated and rekindled my enthusiasm for teaching young minds and encouraging their pursuit of STEM.

Attending the AAPT Winter Meeting reaffirmed my passion for what I do and for the possibilities my future holds. When I first arrived, I wished for an ounce of that little boy’s confidence. I wanted nothing more than to not get swept up in the commotion, to make it through the weekend by observing from the sidelines. This conference took every one of my intentions and shaped them into what I needed, not what I desired. I was totally consumed by my experience and left reinvigorated and ready to take what I had learned and pass it on to others—and I couldn’t be more grateful.

Isabel Montero attends the AAPT Tweet-Up event with John Indergaard (right), Matthew Wright (second from right), and Dr. Gabriel Spalding. Photo by Jerri Anderson, AAPT marketing coordinator.