Retiring Physics Professor Reveals Meaning of Life (Kind Of)

Jonathan Hall, associate teaching professor of physics.

Jonathan Hall, associate teaching professor of physics.

Credit: Penn State Behrend

Jonathan Hall, associate teaching professor of physics, began his career in a remote area of Borneo where the only “technology” he had access to was in the form of painted plywood chalk boards and a hand-cranked, mimeograph-like machine.

In December of this past year, he finished his career in education from home, where he had been teaching dozens of Penn State Behrend students remotely using online videoconferencing software and other high-tech tools that were inconceivable three decades ago. Yet Hall, who taught at Behrend for thirty-two years, said that, technology aside, not much else had really changed over those years.

“Though the technology available today is very different, the key ingredient for student success has never changed; the desire to learn is the most important part,” Hall said.

Sometimes that desire can be stamped out quickly in physics class, a subject many students find intimidating. Hall learned to build students’ confidence first.

“In my general education physics course, I found that if I started with a topic, such as color and light, that students enjoyed, their confidence in their ability to learn physics enabled them to achieve greater success in the course,” he said. “We still did the more challenging topics, but students did better when I would ease them into it later in the course.”

Hall said he learned as much as he taught in his physics, astronomy, and civic and community engagement classes.

“When people would ask me what I taught, I always told them that I taught young people, not a subject. As teachers, we have the task of preparing our students for the future; content knowledge is often a means by which we teach more important lessons about life,” he said.

Learn more from Hall at where you’ll find a full Q&A with him.