The Outstanding Professor Award recognizes a faculty member for overall excellence in academic assignment. This year’s winner comes from the College of Science.
San Jose State Professor of Physics and Astronomy Alejandro Garcia insists that there is no secret recipe for teaching, but he tries to instill in his students that they must always look with “keen, fresh eyes” in order to understand how things move in the world. This approach to teaching helped him earn the 2012-2013 Outstanding Professor Award.
Garcia’s effectiveness as a professor can be seen through his professional work in physics and animation, and the input he brings to the classroom. Garcia has been recognized for his commitment to bringing science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education to the visual arts, having developed a MUSE class entitled The Nexus of Art and Science in 2006 and an SJSU Studies class entitled Physics of Animation in 2009. The latter course, which is an interdisciplinary collaboration between the physics and animation departments within the College of Science and the College of Humanities and the Arts, is the product of one of two NSF Transforming Undergraduate Education in STEM grants Garcia has earned; the most recent one looks into the optics of animation.
As physics consultant at DreamWorks Animation SKG, Garcia applied traditional physics to the art of animation in the film Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted and, in this capacity, was able to bring valuable information back to his students about how physics is used in a major feature film studio.
In addition to his physics of animation work, Garcia actively participates in the fluctuating hydrodynamics research program at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and regularly organizes international conferences. He has published more than 80 technical journal manuscripts and his work has been cited 1,400 since 2007.
The physics scholar is also dedicated in the classroom. According to one student, Garcia “takes the time to ensure that the material, no matter how complex, was presented in such a manner that would easily be absorbed by all students.”
“He is not opposed to resorting to dynamic (occasionally fearsome) demonstrations or wildly comic delivery,” said one colleague. “Exploding pumpkins, beds of nails, and hair-raising electrical currents find a place in a curriculum designed to help visually oriented students understand the importance of science in the production of convincing imagery.”
“I make it very clear that sometimes they specifically need to violate the laws of physics in what they are doing, because if they want to create a compelling story, they have to use the right tools for the job,” he said.
Garcia earned a bachelor’s degree from Florida Atlantic University, a doctoral degree from The University of Texas at Austin and completed post-docs at Free University of Brussels and the University of California in Los Angeles.