Educator Spotlight: WSCC’s Joe Grochowski.

June 6, 2022

Joe Grochowski

Educator Spotlight: WSCC’s Joe Grochowski.

By Kate Krieger-Watkins, Staff Writer.

Educator Spotlight is a presentation of is a presentation of Smith & Eddy Insurance, with offices in Scottville and Manistee, offering discounts for MEA members and school employees.

VICTORY TOWNSHIP – Joe Grochowski barely graduated from high school and was certainly not planning to go to college afterwards. Twenty years later, he is now a professor at West Shore Community College. Grochowski has taught physics for 12 years, a career he never thought about as a young kid.

“My dad worked in maintenance at Alpena Community College, so I started there,” Grochowski, a 2002 graduate of Alpena High School, said. “I took a heavy course load including calculus and physics. I enjoyed the challenge of those courses, and after graduating in 2004, I transferred to Michigan Tech as an applied physics student. After graduating with a bachelor’s degree in 2007, I entered a graduate program at the University of Maryland which I completed in 2010.”

Hired in WSCC in 2000, after professor Dennis Houk retired, Grochowski saiod he very much enjoys teaching the elements of physics because they are the basis of a lot of other scientific fields.

“I love teaching physics because it’s foundational to other sciences, engineering, and technology,” he said. “Chemistry is really about electrical forces (physics), and physiology is largely chemistry, fluids, and circuits. Physics is often thought of as ‘boring stuff,’ like inclined planes and pulleys, but those are really just simplified models waiting to be applied to more interesting situations. Your lower arm is a lever. Your nervous system is a circuit. Your eye is a compound lens system. I also love that physics ranges from the mundane to the extraordinary. Newtonian mechanics may seem intuitive once you learn it, but relativity and quantum mechanics seem like science fiction even after you’ve learned them.”

Thinking he was graduating with an applied physics degree, it wasn’t until graduate school when Grochowski realized maybe he wasn’t supposed to work in the physics field as much as he was supposed to teach physics.

“In physics graduate school, you are trained to be a researcher, but you get a stipend to work as a teaching assistant,” he said. “I found that doing research felt like ‘work.’ It seemed tedious, and I wasn’t generally excited to get into the lab. But I was excited to interact with students. It didn’t feel like ‘work.’ It was challenging, but a fun challenge rather than a tedious one. I personally benefited greatly from a community college education, so my goal was to teach at that level.”

While teaching physics has shown to be a love for Grochowski, he said a lot of times students who take his courses, come into the semester thinking about the course one way, but actually changing their minds physics once they really get started.

“Students often bring misconceptions into the classroom, either about the laws of physics, or about studying physics,” Grochowski said. “I love helping students reconsider the mechanics of the physical world around them, and I love to see a student change their understanding about what ‘physics’ is. It’s not unusual for a student to enter with a certain idea about what a physics class is, basically math, with a bunch of confusing formulas. I try to teach in a way that illustrates physics as the process of modeling the world around you. By the end of the course, I hope that students view their surroundings with more curiosity and understanding of the constraints and possibilities involved.”

Although many students come out of Grochowski’s courses understanding and enjoying the world of physics more, he doesn’t expect them to pursue the field as a career, but he is always pleased when students do find a love of any field and the desire to educate others about it.

“A teacher who can share their enthusiasm with their students, the younger the better, is a powerful force,” he said. “Sadly, I’ve had math teachers in my past who clearly didn’t love math, and they passed that feeling on to their students. I’d encourage any student to go into education if they earnestly enjoy their field and love talking about it with others. That passion matters more than anything. I really don’t enjoy ‘public speaking,” but I don’t see teaching as public speaking. I’m just talking about something I love.”

Although his students end up majoring in many different fields, Grochowski sees the benefit of community colleges and what they can offer any type of student. Each students has a different perspective on what they want to do and where they want to go in life, Grochowski believes that sometimes it’s the community colleges who are often being overlooked by students because the four-year universities have flashier things to offer, but that doesn’t always make the fit for a student or what they’re looking for their outcome to be.

“I’d recalibrate students’ expectations about the ‘college experience’ and adjust university spending, because I think they go hand-in-hand,” he stated. “Students are drawn to brand new dorms with all sorts of amenities on campus, and universities are keen to compete for these students by exceeding their expectations. Up goes the cost, and students become accustomed to a lifestyle they may not be able to afford until mid-career. Among the many virtues of the community college, they haven’t fallen victim to this cycle. For the last several decades, students have been encouraged to aim for professional degrees like medicine, law, engineering, or a liberal arts degree. Vocational degrees or certificates were often looked down upon. I think that’s foolish. Some of the smartest people I’ve met have been machinists, carpenters, or work in building maintenance, like my dad. ‘Educated’ and ‘intelligent’ complement one another nicely, but they aren’t really the same thing. Fortunately, that perception of the vocations is softening, and the community college is well positioned to provide both vocational and transfer opportunities at a reasonable cost.”

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