Janine Shertzer, professor of physics and member of the College of the Holy Cross faculty since 1984, received the 2015 Holy Cross Distinguished Teaching Award at the annual Dean’s Fall Address and Faculty Awards.
The Distinguished Teaching Award recognizes and honors the teaching excellence of its faculty. Following the careful review of each nomination, a committee comprised of students, faculty, and administration chooses the honoree. The annual award is presented to a faculty member who has demonstrated the College’s commitment to teaching and personalized instruction, making ideas come alive for students both in and out of the classroom.
According to Margaret Freije, vice president for academic affairs and dean of the College, Shertzer’s care for her students and her commitment to their learning is clear and especially seen through her collaboration with colleagues to develop new pedagogies and strategies for teaching difficult concepts. Even while teaching complex subject matter in courses such as general and modern physics, and classical and quantum mechanics, Shertzer is repeatedly admired for her ingenuity as an educator.
“While our students would confirm that few of our courses are ‘easy,’ I suspect that this slate of physics courses might qualify as one of the most challenging we offer,” Freije offered at the award presentation. “And yet students uniformly praise her as ‘an unbelievable teacher, mentor and role model.’ One student after another describes her ability to make complicated concepts seem clear and her patience and generosity in working with students to make sure they understand.”
In response to the honor, Shertzer says, “I am not content to teach my students the laws of physics. I want to ignite in them a passion for physics, an appreciation of the beauty and order in nature, from gluons to galaxies. With each new class, I feel the same challenge and excitement that I experienced my very first year at Holy Cross.”
In particular, Shertzer enjoys teaching quantum mechanics, her own research being in atomic physics. “The students start out the semester bewildered by quantum theory, overwhelmed by the mathematics, and frustrated by the lack of classical determinism in the atomic world,” she says. “Then, one by one, they start to ‘get it’, and the seemingly disjoint pieces come together in a logical way. Last fall, a student from my quantum mechanics class came to office hours and asked a question. It was a really good question, and I took my time answering it. All of a sudden, the student literally jumped out of the chair and yelled, ‘Now it all makes sense! Oh wow, I finally understand quantum.’ That pretty much sums up why I am a teacher.”
Shertzer, who earned her Ph.D. in Physics from Brown University, became one of the first woman hired and tenured in the sciences at Holy Cross, and was the first woman to hold the Anthony and Renee Marlon Professorship in the Sciences. Her continued research has resulted in more than 45 authored or co-authored publications in top-tier physics journals, and she has given equally as many presentations, colloquia, and seminars on her work. Her research has been supported by grants from the National Science Foundation among other sources, and in 2006 she was named a Fellow of the American Physical Society. At the College, Shertzer served as the physics department chair from 1998 to 2004, and currently serves as liason to the Teacher Education Program, in addition to serving on the Committee on Tenure and Promotion, the Educational Policy Committee, and the Committee on Mission and Identity.
In addition to the Distinguished Teaching Award, the Raymond J. Swords, S.J., Faculty Medal was presented, honoring those members of the faculty who have served the College for 25 years or more. This year’s recipients were: Todd Lewis, professor of religious studies; Karsten Stueber, professor of philosophy; and Andrew Futterman, former professor of psychology.
Congratulations, Professor Shertzer! Not only were you an excellent teacher and genuinely good person, but you went beyond by mentoring me into the Society of Physics Students. My physics education at HC laid the groundwork for my engineering career, but physics still holds a special place for me. Perhaps when I retire I’ll dive back into some of those equations again…
My wife and I got to experience Dr, Shertzer’s teaching skill on an alumni trip to Portugal with Fr. Brooks, A well deserved award. We actually visited the world’s first “sun spot” tracking lab with Janine who made sense of it all. Fr. Brooks handled the history of the Jesuits and their expulsion from Portugal. All in all a wonderful experience and reinforcing the value of our excellent faculty.