BS and MS in Physics, The University of Southern Mississippi
What she does
As Amanda Sharrow tells her students, she’s “the only show in town” if you need to take physics at the Harrison County (HC) campus of Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College (MGCCC). Being the sole physics instructor on campus doesn’t mean she works in isolation, just that Sharrow’s colleagues teach other sciences, such as anatomy, biology, chemistry, and kinesiology. “It’s fun to see those other sides of science,” she says. The water cooler talk can also be entertaining: “What do we have in the fridge today? Cats or brains or what?”
Sharrow teaches calculus-based physics, algebra-based physics, and some sections of a physical sciences lab class. Most of her physics students are engineering or health-related majors that go on to complete four-year degrees at state schools. Some have also gone on to medical school.
Sharrow’s job is all about teaching, and she wouldn’t have it any other way. Although she’s the only physics instructor at the HC campus, MGCCC has two other physics instructors that Sharrow collaborates with on planning, identifying learning outcomes, and assessments.
How she got there
“In high school I had the best physics instructor ever, Scott Pfaff. I loved the problem-solving in the class, and I loved how it was something that challenged me and interested me,” Sharrow says. “His teaching honestly changed my life, and it’s why I took the route that I did.” Pfaff made it a point to show students that physics is a community, not just a subject. When a group of students from the University of Southern Mississippi (USM) SPS chapter came to visit her physics class, Sharrow was thrilled to see people like her succeeding as physics majors. Just a few years later, she was back visiting her old high school physics class as part of that same SPS chapter.
As an undergraduate at USM, Sharrow developed a passion for sharing physics and took on leadership roles in SPS outreach activities at the local and national level. She stayed on at USM for a master’s degree, conducting physics education research and leading general physics lab sections as a teaching assistant. It was during those lab sessions that Sharrow discovered her love of classroom teaching. After graduating she became an adjunct instructor at MGCCC and then a full-time physics instructor. Almost seven years in and a recipient of MGCCC’s 2021 Instructor of the Year award for the HC campus, she sums up teaching in three words: “It’s so fun!”
Best part of her job
“The best part of my job is being in the classroom and interacting with my students,” Sharrow says. She loves to see them learning, realizing that physics doesn’t have to be scary, and having fun working together on lab activities. “Seeing the looks on their faces when they understand what’s going on or they make a connection to something they’ve seen in their daily life—it’s just awesome.”
Advice to physics students
To physics students, Sharrow offers these thoughts:
- Don’t compare yourself to other people. Even if you’re in the same classes, have the same major, and are applying to the same kinds of jobs, your paths will always be different.
- Trust yourself when you’re making decisions. Explore what feels right to you. Being a physics major looks different on everybody. Majoring in physics doesn’t mean that you have to fit any kind of mold.
- If you’re working toward your education in any capacity right now, you should be proud of yourself. We’ve been presented with so many different challenges over the last year, and I think it’s going to be really cool to look back and say, “I was still working toward my goals in the middle of a worldwide pandemic. I can do anything.”