Pioneer Spotlight: Elizabeth Holden

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Pioneer Spotlight
Elizabeth Holden
February 10, 2017

Elizabeth Holden, lecturer in the Department of Engineering Physics, is in her seventh year teaching at the University of Wisconsin-Platteville. She primarily teaches General Physics I and II, as well as the general education course Women in Science and Engineering – a natural fit as she majored in physics and minored in women’s studies. In addition to teaching physics, she helps to broaden her students’ perspectives and bring abstract classroom concepts to life through an annual short-term education abroad trip to Europe to explore scientific and technological developments and history.

How did you originally become interested in physics?

I was first interested in physics when I was about 10 years old; I had a good science teacher who talked about it. But, I kind of lost interest in it in junior high. I wrote a lot and wanted to be a writer, so I decided to major in journalism. I was a journalism major for two years, and then I decided it wasn’t my scene. I took a gen ed astronomy class because I had to, and I loved it. So I switched majors.

What inspired you to pursue teaching?

I originally thought that I wouldn’t want to teach; I wanted to do research. When I was in graduate school at Northern Illinois University, I had to teach as a teaching assistant, and I loved it. I wasn’t sure where I wanted to get my Ph.D. – or if I even wanted to get a Ph.D. – so I decided to look for a job where I could just teach because I liked it so much.

What is one thing you wish more people knew about physics?

Once you start learning it, there are all sorts of interesting applications of it – and you can bring it into all sorts of areas of your life. For example, I play roller derby in Madison, and I’m doing a project on the physics of roller derby with our Women in STEM LLC here. I had a girl from my team come down and we did a demo for my class together and talked about conservation of momentum. Once you learn it, it really makes sense.

You teach a complicated subject; how do you help students in your class find success?

My student evaluations say I’m approachable and make a difficult subject interesting and engaging. I don’t take myself too seriously. I like teaching and I think because I like it and I like talking to people, that gets conveyed. Generally, I think my enthusiasm for the subject and my not feeling like I need to be stiff and formal with people makes class a more fun place to be. I’m still myself while I’m teaching.

This summer will mark your sixth year co-leading a short-term education abroad trip to Europe to study scientific and technological developments and history; how is this trip enriching students’ education?

Any city we go to in Europe is teeming with scientific history and really cool stuff to do. The trip has been growing; the past two years and this coming year, we are going to run two trips. It is a really different, more enriching experience. Last year we read a book about Antonie van Leeuwenhoek, the first person to discover microorganisms. We had a connection with someone at a museum in the Netherlands who allowed us to see one of the nine remaining Leeuwenhoek microscopes. Leeuwenhoek is from Delft, so we did a walking tour where we saw all the sights that were mentioned in the book. I think it makes it a lot more real to students, and sticks better in their minds. It makes it more interesting and engaging. On top of all of that, just going abroad and seeing an entire world that isn’t the United States is a really broadening experience.

Interview conducted by Alison Parkins, Communications. To nominate someone for the Pioneer Spotlight, contact


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