Physics Through Fingers
by Bryanne McDonough | published May. 1st, 2015
The room is quiet, but Stacey Davis is hard at work. Her hands are flying, detailing the physics topics that will be on the upcoming test. The students who attended the study session agreed that it had a big impact on their University Physics test.
“She does astronomy, so it makes perfect sense that she is someone who could help us on an astronomical scale,” wrote Eric Epstein, a second year Software Engineering major and NTID student.
“She does astronomy, so it makes perfect sense that she is someone who could help us on an astronomical scale.”
Davis, a senior lecturer in the Department of Science and Mathematics in NTID, is the tutor for all of the School of Physics and Astronomy (SOPA) classes with Deaf students, with a little help from her colleague. As if physics was not hard enough already, Davis must explain it all in American Sign Language (ASL). When asked what a normal day was like, she responded with a single word: “Crazy.”
One look at the schedules posted outside her door confirmed this; her weeks were solid blocks of color. On a testing day, she “had six students here at one time working on physics problems.” During a typical week this semester, she sees 14 unique students, some of them multiple times. Davis tutors for six different SOPA classes this semester, but some semesters that number is up to nine. The day isn’t over until after Davis has gone to the RIT Observatory, where she teaches astronomy labs.
But how does one get started in such a complicated career?
“I just kind of fell into it, to be honest,” laughed Davis, who started out as a high school math teacher. Davis earned her Bachelor’s degree in Astronomy-Physics from Colgate University. She began to learn ASL with a colleague who was fostering a Deaf child. “I fell in love with the language,” Davis admitted.
When she was looking at graduate schools, Davis found RIT to be the perfect choice.
“If I’m going to do a Masters in Education, why not learn another language while doing it?” said Davis. She earned her Masters of Science in the Secondary Education of Students who are Deaf or Hard of Hearing program. When her grant was up, Davis prepared to move on from RIT, but experiencedresistance from the administration. “NTID was like ‘Wait a minute, you can’t leave. You know physics and sign language.’ I was very blessed.”
Lecturers in NTID are required to know sign language, even the tenured professors, which can make it difficult for NTID to find lecturers. While not unique, Davis is one of only a few to have mastered both physics and sign language.
Over her years at RIT, she has had to learn the material of 16 different physics courses to tutor and teach.
“Seeing people get it, not hate physics [and] seeing the lightbulb go off,” Davis explained when asked about her favorite part of the job. “I like getting to know the students and building that relationship with them.”
Louis Roman, an Information Technology major and NTID student, works with Davis twice a week.
“She is a wonderful tutor," Roman said. "She is able to help me to understand the materials which I need to know and practice on them.”
Jonathan Duong, an Electrical Engineering major and NTID student, agreed, writing: “Stacey is kind and helpful.”
When Davis manages to find some free time, she enjoys swing dancing, growing African violets and being active in her church. Her two beloved Weimaraner dogs keep her busy at home.