Dr. Jim Musser has been head of the Department of Physical Sciences at Arkansas Tech for about five years.
Even though the number of students on campus is growing and the department is having issues with the load on faculty, Musser strives to ensure that students in the department are receiving the best possible education.
“We’ve worked a lot on trying to adapt to best practices in teaching,” he said. “We’re working on getting better at what we do.”
Musser emphasizes the importance of quality educators, both in his field and in general. Musser’s first degree was in mathematics, and he worked as a high school math teacher, but, as he pursued his doctorate, learning under good science teachers helped him get where he is now.
“Good teachers often inspire people, and that happened to me,” he said.
“Specifically about our majors: we’re in areas that are high-need in the state, so physics and chemistry,” Musser said. “There’s a shortage—a national shortage—in teachers, so one of the things we want to grow is the program of teachers; we want to produce more science teachers for high school level.”
His dedication to education runs deeper than merely wanting to produce more teachers, though. Musser is passionate about helping others and seeing them succeed.
“You make somebody’s day better—you help them solve a problem—and as a faculty member, that’s mostly students,” Musser said. “As a department head, it’s students and faculty. But, at the end of the day, I’m still a teacher. I still really like to help students.”
Musser beamed as he recounted various success stories from his students, proud of the strides they’ve made.
With a grin, he stated, “It’s still really nice when you make something work out and you see students go off and be successful, and that’s why we’re here. It really is fun.”
Outside of his duties as department head, Musser has been heavily involved with the Arkansas Department of Education. He was on a committee that helped write the science courses for the high schools, helped select the licensure exams for high school science teachers, did professional training for high school science teachers, and he is currently in a research project with 13 states looking at science reform in high schools. He claimed that while some of those tasks are tied in with his research, some are also simply for the sake of service.
As a physicist, Musser explained, there are a lot of opportunities available besides teaching, but his job makes him happy; it’s something that he wants to do.
“Teaching is something where, I feel like, even now, but when I come to the end of my life I’m going to look back and say I did something that mattered, right? Help young people be successful and grow and develop and stuff,” he said.
He also advocated for diversity and the younger generation in college right now, choosing to celebrate what the generation does well and learn from it.
“Your generation is accepting in ways that previous generations haven’t been. You’re much more tolerant of differences and celebrating diversity, and that’s a big deal. That’s a really big, big exciting thing. So that’s one of the things I really brag about your generation about,” he said.