Soma Chattopadhyay, PhD, adjunct professor of physics and engineering, found a way to combine some of her favorite things-math, science, research and nature-into a career teaching college-level physics.
“Principles of physics are with us all the time and explain everything that we see around us in nature; why the sky is blue, why the moon rises, why the ocean has tides,” said Chattopadhyay when asked what it is about physics that interests her most.
By taking one of her classes, Chattopadhyay hopes that her students become curious learners who are inspired to appreciate the beauty that comes from the natural phenomena explained by physics.
Teaching runs in the family for Chattopadhyay, who has been teaching in some capacity since she was in high school. Her mother taught high school English for 35 years and still continues to teach in retirement. Her grandfather taught philosophy and Sanskrit, earning many prizes for his teaching. Chattopadhyay has also received several awards for her teaching since she began at ECC in 2015, including: the 2017 ICCTA Outstanding Part-Time Faculty Member Award, the Elgin Community College Orrin G. Thompson Teaching Excellence Award, the M. Hildred Blewett Fellowship from the American Physical Society for women physicists returning to careers in physics, and the Dr. Joseph T. Cipfl Faculty Grant from ICCFA in 2016.
Chattopadhyay believes strongly in the importance of encouraging other women and girls to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and math. She is also an advocate for exposing elementary school students to different sciences and math early on so they can experiment to find their interest and then have more opportunities to train for a future as scientists, mathematicians or engineers as they continue their education.
We caught up with Chattopadhyay to ask her some questions about her life and her work at ECC. Here are her answers.
In your words, what do you do at ECC?
I teach physics and engineering courses (PHY 101, EGR 152 and EGR 252) at ECC during the spring and fall semesters. I have helped in curriculum development and participated in professional development activities related to improving the number of women in physics and engineering and starting research in community colleges.
What is your greatest accomplishment since you've been here?
I have enjoyed teaching students of both engineering and physics classes. Students from my class have gone on to Northern Illinois University, Illinois Institute of Technology, The University of Chicago, the University of Illinois at Chicago and other college and universities to have a better future. This, I think is one of my greatest accomplishments.
What would you do if you were ECC president for a day?
I would promote our engineering associate degree program which has more courses in engineering, and I would create a class on the basics of research. I would start some research activities related to nanoscience and nanoengineering for students who are interested since we are in the nano age. I would create math classes related to adult education, for students who are weak in math but want to study science, and middle school and high school-aged girls who are afraid of math. Presently, there is only one full-time faculty member in physics at ECC. Hence, I would also hire another full-time faculty member to make the physics department even stronger.
If there was a movie about your life, who would you want to play you?
Ingrid Bergman-I have loved all her movies; she is simply superb.
What's on your “bucket list?”
To improve my teaching and do my best for our students; to buy a furnace and a scanning electron microscope; and start research activities at ECC involving students and Math, Science and Engineering (MSE) faculty.
What do you enjoy doing outside of work?
I love travelling, I am simply crazy about it. I love reading books, especially biographies, and also enjoy cooking and listening to music.
Where was the best place you've traveled to? Or, where would you like to visit?
I have traveled a lot to Europe, South America, Central America and Asian countries, and I have been to 45 U.S. states. I've particularly enjoyed my trips to Yellowstone National Park, Alaska, Costa Rica and Venice, Italy. I've visited 35 U.S. national parks; in the future, I would love to visit all 56.
What's one fact we should know about you?
I love nature! Some additional things about me: I appreciate modesty, sincerity and honesty. I am a loving and giving person. I would help anyone in need. I enjoy working hard and am happy to work on projects that will drive away poverty, hunger, illiteracy, etc., to make this world a better place for everybody, now, and for future generations.
What's something about your job that others should know?
I enjoy teaching, research and learning in general.
What would be your “theme song?”
“Yeh Hai Bombay Meri Jaan,” is my favorite song by classical Indian artist Geeta Dutt. It means “I dearly love the city Bombay.”
What was your favorite class in school?
I loved math and science very much from an early age. The labs always excited me!
What was your first job out of school?
My first job was when I started doing my PhD in physics at Tata Institute of Fundamental Research in Bombay, India, where I received a stipend every month.
What quote best describes your philosophy?
The quote written on the wall in Mother Teresa's home for children in Calcutta, India:
“People are often unreasonable, irrational and self-centered. Forgive them anyway.
If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives. Be kind anyway.
If you are successful, you will win some unfaithful friends and some genuine enemies. Succeed anyway.
If you are honest and sincere, people may deceive you. Be honest and sincere anyway.
What you spend years creating, others could destroy overnight. Create anyway.
If you find serenity and happiness, some may be jealous. Be happy anyway.
The good you do today, will often be forgotten. Do good anyway.
Give the best you have, and it will never be enough. Give your best anyway.
In the final analysis, it is between you and God. It was never between you and them anyway.”
Complete this sentence: “I enjoy working at ECC because…”
I enjoy working at ECC because I can teach students thereby helping to educate the next generation of adults in this country.