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Faculty Profile: Catherine Mader,
Associate Professor of Physics
and Chairperson of the Department

Dr. Catherine Mader of the physics and engineering faculty hopes to make her discipline more accessible to a wide variety of students. As a professor, she aims to teach students that physics does not have to be as intimidating as it may initially seem.

“It doesn’t have to be hard; it just has to be challenging,” she says. “You have to work - you have to do it. You have to practice to be a good musician, and you have to practice to do science.”

Making science more interesting to people has been a priority for Dr. Mader for quite some time. In graduate school, she was already doing science outreach work at elementary schools and science days at malls. She says, “we just started putting things together to try and make science not scary and get kids curious.”

Now, at Hope College, Dr. Mader wants to get college students, regardless of their major, curious about physics as well. One of her current projects focuses on revising and reorganizing the curriculum of both the calculus- and algebra-based introductory physics sequences. The process has included everything from rewriting labs to coming up with new textbook questions that are relevant to different disciplines.

“We spent a lot of time when I first got here revising the calc-based course and teaching it differently so that people don’t say ‘Oh, this is hard,’ but ‘Oh, I can get this,’” says Dr. Mader. The project is “finding ways to make [physics homework] more interesting. Everyone’s more motivated in any subject when it strikes nearer to home.”

Dr. Mader also helps make her classes more accessible through her relationships with her students. Since her undergraduate days, she has appreciated close relationships between faculty and students. “I think I knew my profs as well as my students know me,” she says.

She sees supportive academic relationships as one of Hope’s distinctive qualities. In addition to their focus on students, professors encourage each other in their teaching and research and students help each other through their work.

She recalls a story from her early days at Hope as a prime example. “I went to teach my first class,” she says, “and sitting on the desk that was going to be mine were four notebooks for the courses I was going to teach. The last person that had taught it had all of their notes, all of their homework, all sitting there. And that’s what makes Hope special. It’s an amazingly supportive faculty.”

This profile was written by Melissa Sexton, a 2005 Hope College graduate from Kalamazoo, Mich., for the 2005-06 Hope College Catalog.

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