BY VICTORIA KRUKENKAMP
Scheduling an appointment to meet with Dr. Mark Stewart, associate professor of physics at ESU, is like trying to nail down the President and CEO of a multi-national corporation.
On top of the classes he teaches, Stewart is a jack-of-all-trades concerned with improving education, helping students succeed, academic research, and reducing the carbon footprint of the university.
Yet, his busy schedule is something that comes natural to Stewart, and a fact that is in accord with his personality and his discipline in electrical engineering.
“My favorite part of [electrical engineering] is that it involves lots of different things — all the math you could ever want, all the physics you could ever want, all the computer science you could ever want,” said Stewart. “It’s a discipline that’s very broad, and it pulls in a lot of things.
Even he knows how well his discipline agrees with who he is.
“I’m not one to just focus on a detail. I like pulling from lots of different details,” said Stewart.
Stewart completed his undergraduate education at Drew University in New Jersey, and then finished his education at Lehigh University.
He discovered his passion for teaching by coincidence, and pursued his current career after only a year working in the corporate world.
“I taught the Princeton Review — which is like an SAT prep class — when I was in college, and I enjoyed that,” said Stewart. “So, I think that’s maybe how I first got a taste of teaching and first seriously considered that as something I might want to do in the future.”
At ESU, Stewart is the engineering transfer program coordinator. Because the university doesn’t offer a full engineering program, yet it supports students who would like to start at ESU and then transfer, it is necessary to coordinate a program that will ensure student success at their future universities.
Not only does Stewart advise all students that are interested in engineering, but he also makes sure that the courses offered at ESU are comparable to those offered at universities like Penn State and Temple.
“It’s very important to make sure a physics course at ESU is equivalent to a course at Penn State,” said Stewart, who takes his responsibility and student success personally. “If a student left ESU and did poorly at Penn State — that’s my role — to make sure that doesn’t happen.”
Stewart doesn’t slow down even in his research efforts. He is currently involved in two research projects.
First, he is very interested in how things are ranked or rated. Stewart wants to find the right algorithm to compare like things while factoring in every aspect.
“What’s the right way to take data and decide the sequence?” he asked. “If one sports team beats a really good sports team, and another sports team beats a really bad sports team — even though they have the same record — they shouldn’t be ranked the same.”
Stewart’s second research project is a student outcome focused endeavor in that he is generating software that can help students learn physics.
Concerned with the complications of synchronous learning — where some students get left behind while other students fight boredom — Stewart has developed “SMITH,” an asynchronous learning program that helps students master the subject by giving each student different questions depending on where they are in the material.
The program is something that Stewart uses both inside and outside the classroom, and one that he recognizes is frustrating to many students.
“It is torturous,” he said. “It won’t let you move on until you’ve absolutely mastered something.”
Stewart’s involvement on campus also includes a term leading the Sustainability Commission. Of his many interests, Stewart tried to measure the carbon footprint of the campus, and is actively trying to discover ways to minimize it.
If there was one place that Stewart truly focused on, it was his decision to come to ESU.
His love for the outdoors and a home for his four children limited his search to a country setting over a possible city life, but his true influence was his impression of the physics department here at ESU.
“They seemed to be very serious about knowing their stuff,” said Stewart, who is focused on high standards for education to benefit his students.
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