Physics department leader says she fell in love with teaching years ago

Making a difference in the lives of students with whom she connects is what Juliet Brosing, a physics professor at Pacific University in Forest Grove, loves most about her job.

Dr. Brosing, who began her tenure at Pacific in 1987, was selected Nov. 15 as the 2012 Oregon Professor of the Year by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching and the Council for Advancement and Support of Education.

She’s the first faculty member from Pacific to receive the award, and is among 300 professors throughout the U.S. nominated for state and national honors this year.

“There are some students you just can’t motivate, or that you clash with,” Brosing, 59, said last week. “But for some, you can be the one who makes a difference — who turns them on to physics, or helps them see how smart they are, or shows them opportunities they never considered.

“That, to me, is one of the most wonderful things about teaching.”

A native of tiny La Honda, Calif., Brosing graduated from Pescadero High School in a neighboring town along with 24 classmates, two of whom she’d known since kindergarten. Brosing “never considered teaching as a career,” she said, until she moved to Oregon after completing post-doctoral work on top of her Ph.D.

“I had already done research, and being an experimentalist at heart, I thought I should try something different, so I applied for both teaching and industry jobs,” Brosing noted. “I got a teaching job first, and fell in love.”

Brosing is particularly bullish about engaging girls and young women in the rigors of her field and one other: computer science. For the last three years she has collaborated with Dr. Shereen Khoja, of the school’s computer science department, to run a four-week day camp each summer for seventh- and eighth-grade girls with funding from the National Science Foundation and partnering with Oregon Public Broadcasting.

“Talk about setting yourself up for a good job — computer science is one of those fields where the need for professionals is far outpacing our ability to produce graduates,” she observed.

At Pacific, Brosing’s research, conducted with undergraduate students, has mostly been related to nuclear physics. Her Ph.D. research centered on the biological consequences of radiation, including work connected to measuring the impact of oxygen in treating cancerous tumors with radiation.

The Carnegie Foundation and CASE have offered the U.S. Professors of the Year awards program since 1981, and the program “is recognized as one of the most prestigious awards honoring undergraduate teaching,” said Pacific spokesman Joe Lang.

Brosing said she was “ecstatic” upon learning of her selection. “I didn’t think I would get the award,” she said. “There are so many superb teachers.”

It was in putting together her nomination packet that Brosing found a sense of satisfaction.

“This application allowed me to look at the big picture (and) at the many different things I’ve done over the course of my years at Pacific,” she said. “I envision life as a huge web, and each time you touch someone, or reestablish contact, or reach out, you add another strand to that web.

“That web is what sustains me, what feeds my soul.”

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