Jennifer Nicholson is a 24-year-veteran teacher at Sussex County Technical School in New Jersey. She currently teaches chemistry and two classes, Advanced Biology and Fundamentals of Optics, both of which are part of a concurrent enrollment program at Sussex County Community College. She began teaching optics two years ago when school administrators asked her to take on the new course. She agreed, and soon learned something about herself and her students.

Jennifer had no specialized training in optics. She taught Honors Physics for more than a decade and always preferred variety in her schedule, so she jumped at the chance to try something new. Jennifer admits to being surprised by how well her science background helped her adapt to the new curriculum.

Jennifer’s students surprised her as well. She said that her students bring a passion and joy to the optics class that she didn’t always see when teaching other science subjects. “I frequently have students tell me that they disliked science or that they were ‘bad at science’ before taking optics. But after a week of quantum physics discussions, they are doing independent research and staying after class to excitedly tell me about what they read,” she said.

Jennifer added, “They send me emails of quantum physics related news articles and videos, on the weekend! In my 24 years of teaching, I have never taught a topic that gets students to that level of engagement.” In fact, many students decide on their career path after taking Jennifer’s optics class.

“My optics class is responsible for two former students becoming astrophysicists. I don’t know what could be cooler than that.”

Jennifer Nicholson, Optics Teacher

Jennifer’s optics class has remained at maximum capacity since its first year. When asked if she would encourage other teachers to start a similar class, Jennifer replied “Hands down yes, without a doubt. I would encourage both students and teachers to consider optics.” She explained, “As a teacher, it is always a lot of work to take on a new class. But the payoff is worth it. The engagement that you get with students (of all academic levels) is so rewarding.”