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Faculty Focus: December 2017

Brigid (Baier) Esposito

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Mrs. Esposito is in her 14th year of teaching science at Fenwick.

What is your educational background?

BE: I am a Fenwick alumna and member of the 1996 first co-educational class. After high school, I attended Washington University in St. Louis and completed degrees in Chemical Engineering and Systems Science. In college, I developed a passion for service through active participation in the Catholic Student Center. I worked two wonderful co-operative experiences at DuPont (making soy protein) and Proctor and Gamble (making Cascade) and enjoyed both experiences immensely. After college, I decided to pursue my passion for education by participating in the Notre Dame ACE (Alliance for Catholic Education) program. Through that program, I taught in a Catholic high school in St. Petersburg, FL, for three years and earned a Master’s in Education.  After returning to teach at Fenwick, I attended night school and finished my Master in Applied Physics at DePaul University. 

What are you currently reading for enjoyment?

BE: I have a five-year old and an eight-year old boy so, more often than not, I find myself reading parenting books in my downtime. I am currently reading “UnSelfie: Why Empathetic Kids Succeed in Our All-About-Me World” by Dr. Michele Borba.

What interests do you pursue outside of the classroom?

BE: Taking care of my family is already an active job, but I also try to squeeze in a workout whenever I can. I recently started taking Tae-kwan-do with my two boys. My eight-year-old, Stephen, is a brown belt and my five-year-old, Johnny, and I are both white belts. My husband, Steve, earned his black belt when he was in high school. I have also enjoyed doing a little amateur fitness boxing with other Fenwick alumnae.

My Catholic faith is an important part of my life and I enjoy spending quality time praying, listening to Catholic hymns, and reading spiritual books like Thomas Merton’s New Seeds of Contemplation.

To what teams and/or clubs did you belong as a student?

BE: As a student at Fenwick, I was involved in Blackfriars Guild, Marching and Concert Band, State Math Team, Soccer and Running. Blackfriars is such a wonderful organization because it always felt like family to me. I have many wonderful memories of the late-night dress rehearsals, snack trips to 7-11 and cast parties. State Math Team is the activity that provided the best preparation for engineering school as we learned to solve problems quickly and think outside of the box.

Which clubs/Sports/Activities do you run at Fenwick?

BE: I coach the Oral Event of the State Math Team. Each year we have a different topic, and the students work hard to become experts on that topic and prepare for an oral exam and presentation in front of a panel of mathematics experts. This year’s topic is Markov chains.

What quality/characteristic marks a Fenwick student?

BE: The best way to describe a Fenwick student/parent/teacher is the phrase “High Standards and High Support.”  We really do have high expectations of our young people at Fenwick, and they have high expectations of themselves. I do also feel that while we expect a great deal, we are also very supportive of students and do everything we can to help them reach their goals -- whether that be providing tutoring in writing or math, helping a student with a college essay or connecting a student with an alum who has experience in a field in which he or she is interested.  I have seen so many faculty [members] go the extra mile to help students achieve their dreams. 

Overall, Fenwick students are also collaborative. I have seen so many of my senior students in AP Physics C reaching out to help younger students taking physics for the first time without asking for extra credit or special recognition.

What personal strengths do you find especially helpful in your teaching?

BE: I am intellectually curious and love learning about science and sharing my knowledge with my students. I prefer to view myself as the head student in the classroom, rather than the teacher.  My favorite time in the classroom is my students’ final presentations on a “Modern Technology and Its Basis in Physics.” In these presentations, my students become the expert in the room and share their knowledge and interests with the class in a professional manner. In the past, students have spoken about Bio-3D printing, solar panels, fMRI’s, ultrasound and many other topics. 

I am also a very optimistic person. I truly believe that everyone can learn physics and enjoy being a part of a student’s journey to success. In the beginning of the year, physics can be challenging because there are so many word problems. I am very committed to doing whatever it takes to help my students succeed, whether that be helping with problems after school, responding to questions via Schoology or helping students figure out problems in the classroom.  It is very rewarding to see students become confident and competent problem-solvers.

What do you like most about teaching as a career?

BE: Working with teenagers is really wonderful because they are creative, optimistic and fun.  Working in a laboratory setting is also wonderful because we work on a variety of different collaborative, mini-science research projects. We shoot off rockets, design roller coasters, build circuits, levitate nails, analyze musical frequencies and spin electric motors.

What is your philosophy of education?

BE: I often say “Physics is not a spectator sport”-- students learn best by trying problems themselves as opposed to watching the teacher work endless examples. I also am a big believer that students learn best from their mistakes. “You either win or you learn, and you aren’t always going to win.” I see mistakes as an amazing opportunity for authentic student growth.

Students learn a great deal by performing experiments themselves. Working at a school with 95- minute lab periods two times per week is powerful because it gives our students the extended time necessary to work collaboratively on experiments. In these lessons, students don’t just learn physics but they are given the opportunity to hone their communication and interpersonal skills while tackling course content together.

In your opinion, what is the best part of the Fenwick experience?

BE: I really believe that the Kairos retreat is one of the best parts of the Fenwick experience because, through this experience, members of the senior class learn to listen to and empathize with each other’s disparate journeys. I think it also gives them a sense of cohesiveness as a group in their shared spiritual identity as they embark on their college careers.

Who is the most influential individual in your career?

BE: My AP Physics C teacher Terriann Vyborny is the most influential person in my career.  She is smart, humble and funny and an outstanding teacher. As a colleague, she was always so supportive and open-minded and shared so many excellent lab ideas and teaching strategies that worked well with our students. I am also very grateful for all the wonderful mathematics I learned from Roger Finnell as a high school student. Even as a faculty member, I feel I can stop by and get answers from his “Calculus hotline” for the occasional math trick I forget. I have always admired Roger because he genuinely cares about his students and Fenwick High School.

What is the best experience you have had in teaching?

BE: There are so many wonderful day-to-day experiences that it is hard to pick out one in particular. I love when students show their enthusiasm or passion for science by telling me something they have read in the news or a scientific project in which they are involved. I also really enjoy the emails and visits from former students who come back to tell us about their university experience. It is so rewarding to hear that your former students are successful practicing engineers, architects and engineering PhD candidates.

What do you think is the greatest challenge facing students today?

BE: I think that students are not given enough mental space to contemplate ideas without distractions (texts, instant messaging, the Internet, etc.) Some of the best ideas are born from that quiet time to daydream, and so few of us have enough of that these days.

How do you motivate your students to become active learners in your classroom?

BE: On lab days, they can hardly avoid being active learners! However, on other days, we find our fun in small things. For example, students can earn the title of “Physics Champion” by finding the solution to a tough problem, or students who go to the board to demonstrate a solution for the class get to pick out one piece of candy. To switch it up, we sometimes break into groups and play a form of Physics Jeopardy, which can stimulate some pretty intense (yet still collegial) competition.

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