Ehrensperger continues to be inspired by his students and colleagues, and loves teaching at Woodward. “I deeply appreciate the autonomy I’ve had. I collaborate with colleagues teaching common courses, and I’ve been allowed to play to my strengths, which I believe gives the students an optimal experience,” he said. “I was a science nut from an early age, and getting to teach it (for an actual living!) truly amounts to a joyful way to share my passion.”
What do you like about teaching at Woodward?
I love the students, their inquisitiveness and joyful outlook on the world around them. It’s what I want to impart, and they’re already wired for it. It’s a beautiful thing!
Do you have a favorite memory from your time at Woodward?
There are so many! The images that rush through my head largely involve laughter. There have been SO many goofy, funny things that have come up in class. Some are weird analogies (for course concepts) that popped into my head and clicked with students. Then there’s all the fascinating conversation and laughter at the lunch table with colleagues. I’ll always remember guiding several students through the arduous and very rewarding process of building their own telescopes (including grinding, polishing, and figuring the primary mirror). Best of all is getting feedback from students—in real time or three decades later—confirming that their experience was positive or even transformational. It doesn’t get any better than that!
How do you know you have connected with a student?
I know when they hang around after class to talk about the course and other, far-reaching things. I think real, sincere human connections are what teaching is all about. The fact that students sometimes really want to know what I think about something is a deep honor for me. I want to know what they really think as well.
Why were you originally drawn to teaching?
I did not get my physics degrees with plans to teach. It became a more inviting option when I was a graduate teaching assistant at Georgia Tech. Seeing light bulbs go off in other people’s heads was empowering and delightful. I was on the edge between teaching and a career in research into optics and lasers, including a possible job with NASA. I decided to try teaching, and I’ve never regretted it. In mentoring an ISR student who was doing work in optics at Georgia Tech, I got the parallel universe experience of briefly stepping back into that world.
What does the Woodward Way mean to you?
Woodward is a place where people joyfully come together to learn and achieve great things. It’s a place where people appreciate and foster knowledge and ideas because those things are of inherent value. The best examples of civilization include scholarship, manifested in many ways, such as the great Library of Alexandria or the rise of universities in Medieval Europe, and so many more scattered across the world through time. I think of Woodward as such a place.