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Jim Borgardt

Associate Professor of Physics

Jim Borgardt

For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. Even those of us not well versed in physics know that this is Newton's Third Law of Motion. But for Jim Borgardt, associate professor of physics, it's sort of a mantra for his life.

Whether taking advice from a graduate adviser or rebelling against some strict house rules as a child, Jim usually can convince folks that his way is better.

As the son of a U.S. Navy aviator, Jim moved from military base to military base as a kid until his dad was stationed near Pleasanton, Calif. (in the Bay Area, 30 miles east of San Francisco). A typical California teen-ager, he excelled at sports, including tennis and soccer. In fact, he was good enough to join touring teams in both sports, but he felt somewhat stifled by the regimentation of sports at that level.

One place he certainly did not feel stifled was in the classroom, particularly in science courses. "My earliest childhood memory is sitting in front of the TV watching the moon landing; my mouth was just agape," he says.

Jim absorbed science's lessons, but how science worked in the real world was just as compelling to him. And, as the son of a military man, he was interested in how science affected the Cold War era and nuclear weaponry. When Jim entered the University of California, Santa Barbara, he gravitated to physics and math, but he also found a course that focused on the ramifications of nuclear policy. "I wasn't interested in just the science, but also how the science impacted society and interfaced with national strategy," he says.

Santa Barbara also gave Jim the opportunity to discover he loved teaching. He spent a lot of time in what the university called a demonstration room, going over experiments, while also working as a tutor.

During his summers, Jim worked at Lockheed on solid rocket fuel propellant and realized that defense industry work was not his cup of jet fuel. Instead, he applied and was accepted to the University of Arizona physics graduate program. Upon arrival, however, he didn't want to confine himself to just physics, and also took graduate courses in philosophy and educational psychology. "I still wanted to get the liberal arts," he recalls. "My advisers were telling me to concentrate on physics--'forget teaching' they said--but the hardest thing for me in graduate school was focusing solely on one small, myopic area of research."

Jim's big-picture vision for a career always included teaching. In fact, early on as a graduate student, he applied for one of two Arizona teaching positions and was chosen from 80 other students for the job. His passion for the classroom showed immediately, as he won teaching awards three years in a row from the American Association of Physics Teachers, and another from the University of Arizona. Several colleagues advised him to take a teaching job at Arizona, but he decided to take another route. "I knew I didn't want to teach at a large university, because I was teaching introductory physics with well over 250 students," he explains. "I wanted to work at a smaller place, where I could actually get to know the students, and people were working toward common goals."

Jim's first goal was getting an academic job, although that was no small thing, because the market was flooded with physics Ph.D.s after the end of the Reagan-era military buildup. "I think (physics professor) Norm (Siems) told me there were almost 200 applicants for the Juniata job," Jim says.

When Jim arrived on campus, he found that not only could he teach physics, but he also had the freedom to create his own courses, which could deal with topical material peripheral to his discipline. Since coming on board in 1998, Jim has explored all aspects of the Juniata experience. He created a course on Nuclear Threat and sought out teaching experiences abroad. So far he has interacted with faculty in Marburg, Germany, and in taught in Cochin, India (in fall 2003, he spent eight months in India, taking his wife, Jennifer, and two sons, Aiden (then 5) and Soren (then 3).

The longtime West Coaster has settled into the Huntingdon lifestyle. Although it is possible that if someone told him he had to stay here, he might move. Jim describes the lifestyle best: "It's a dynamic and close-knit community where you can work in a collaborative way and really explore other disciplines, which in the end adds to the depth of experiences for our students."

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