Lessons Learned as a Student Help Guide Physics Professor to Award
Sept. 8, 2014
Dr. Jason Slinker
University students sometimes forget that their professors were once students themselves. For UT Dallas’ Dr. Jason Slinker, the experiences he had as a student helped guide him toward a career as a university professor.
As an undergraduate who majored in physics, chemistry and math at Southern Nazarene University in Oklahoma, Slinker participated in the Youth in Mission program, which places college students in ministry around the world. He visited Kenya, where for six weeks he taught the local people to become trainers of new youth leaders. That summer, he relied on a simple pattern of teaching:
I do, you watch.
I do, you help.
You do, I help.
You do, I watch.
The experiential learning process is one he took to heart when he became an assistant professor of physics at UT Dallas in 2010.
“The point of this process is, I transition from demonstration to active partnership to observation,” Slinker said. “That’s how I approach my teaching, both in the classroom and also one-on-one with student researchers who join my lab.”
His efforts have earned Slinker a 2014 Regents’ Outstanding Teaching Award from the University of Texas System Board of Regents.
Slinker credits his undergraduate and graduate advisors for inspiring his enthusiasm to work with students.
“I was fortunate that at my small undergrad university I had a great mentor in physics,” Slinker said.
Dr. Jason Slinker
TITLE: Assistant professor of physics
RESEARCH INTERESTS: DNA in nanoscale electronics; electrochemical biosensors; light-emitting electrochemical cells
OTHER ACCOLADES: President's Award, Southern Nazarene University; named an inventor on three patents
More About the Awards
Faculty Members Receive Regents' Outstanding Teaching Awards
His mentor, Dr. Dwight E. Neuenschwander, who chairs the physics department at Southern Nazarene University, was a coach for the U.S. team in the International Physics Olympiad, and has been involved for many years with the national Society of Physics Students organization.
“We would do physics circuses together, which is where I learned some of the demonstrations that I now do in class and our students do in the community,” said Slinker, who is faculty advisor for the Society of Physics Students at UT Dallas, a group of about 20 students.
Members of the SPS chapter at UT Dallas attend conferences and host guest lecturers, and the chapter participates in regular outreach events, including a physics demonstration last spring for kids at the Joy of Science event at the Dallas Arboretum and Botanical Garden.
Under Slinker’s guidance, a group of SPS students won a research grant in 2012 from Sigma Pi Sigma, the National Physics Honor Society, to create testing equipment for light-emitting diodes. The undergraduates participating in the project had a wide range of majors including physics, computer science, electrical engineering, biology and biochemistry.
The chapter won another honor from the national SPS organization, the 2013 Marsh W. White Outreach Award, and used the funds to sponsor a model rocket contest for the UT Dallas community.
“I’ve been blessed with motivated and talented students who can win these wonderful awards,” Slinker said.
Dr. Robert Glosser, professor and head of the Department of Physics, praised Slinker’s strengthening of the SPS group, as well as his teaching success and other contributions to the department, including chairing the physics qualifying exam committee.
“In the four years he’s been on the faculty, Jason has established himself as an outstanding teacher, mentor and researcher,” Glosser said.
As a graduate student at Cornell University, where he earned his master’s degree and PhD in applied and engineering physics, Slinker mentored undergraduates working on senior projects. He said he learned a great deal about optimism from his PhD advisor, Dr. George Malliaras, who knew how to positively motivate students.
“He would draw the best undergraduates to his lab, and then I would take them on, mentor and train them,” Slinker said. “I enjoyed helping them reach their goals, build them up to competency and see what they could achieve in the lab on their own.
“It was that sort of experience that got me thinking that I might want to be a professor and continue that kind of interaction.”
Slinker’s research combines biology, chemistry and physics, and includes DNA electrochemistry and the manufacturing of nanocircuits with DNA. He teaches introductory mechanics courses in physics, as well as a capstone laboratory class on physical measurements. His lectures can pack a large lecture hall with more than 250 students, where he includes lots of demonstrations.
“I enjoy running the laboratory group and teaching at that level,” he said. “And in the large lecture courses, I enjoy the demos as much as anybody.”