Interview: Matt Pusko

Matt Pusco, a young guitarist, may not know what his future holds, but the seeds have been planted early and repeatedly. Qualifications for STEM courses, positive experience of teaching college teachers, and UNLV research and teaching opportunities have all contributed to the role of Assistant Professor at the College of Engineering.

Now, he says, the work is hitting all the right cords. I’m not happy about helping my students in my current role, but I don’t go home.

What brought you to UNLV?

While I was getting my bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Texas, my whole family moved from the state to Las Vegas. So I went out and applied immediately to UNLV because I knew I wanted to get a doctorate in physics or engineering.

I saw what kind of research was going on in the compound and I was amazed at the future of materials. Things like carbon nanotubes, graphene and other nanostructures – materials that show how amazing and impressive things are for small things like your iPhone. I have seen many studies here in the fields of engineering, physics and chemistry. But I really like renewable energy research in engineering. I joined Jay Moon, a professor of mechanical engineering with her wings, and began working on thermoelectric nano materials.

As a former doctoral student, what kept you here?

As a graduate student, I was asked if I would like to teach Dynamics course. I liked it, the students seemed to like me, and I continued to teach.

When I was working on my doctorate, I felt that the study was not as exciting as I had hoped. But I really enjoyed teaching and working with students. I was then introduced to teaching our introductory engineering experience for elementary school. The seminar is designed to introduce students to the various engineering programs available at the college and includes all resources such as professional ethics, technical communication and new students to the campus. It is designed to help improve student experience, retention and graduation rates.

I realized that I wanted to help the students succeed. At the same time, I applied for a job as the college was increasing the number of professor residences! He is truly perfect.

You have a bachelor’s and master’s degree in physics. Tell us about it.

I studied physics at Stephen F. Austin State University in Texas. Also known as the College of Teaching – they teach teachers how to teach.

I did not know what to do when I went to school, and I actually came in as an accountant. But I gave up finance and when I looked at the list of interesting topics, it was probably physics that I could not teach myself. That caught my attention. So I took physics and I really liked it. I was fortunate to have wonderful teachers. I have truly admired their ability to teach and I have been very grateful for the methods I have used.

You are currently teaching physics at the College of Engineering. How did this happen?

Yes I am, and it is an honor. The college is focusing on student achievement. Professors like myself are literally here to ensure that our students excel in engineering courses, improve their retention and graduation levels, and stay in the engineering fields. Often, the limitation is that physics and calculus tend to push students backwards. Everything we do in engineering is applied mathematics. But the students did not know how to apply what they had learned in physics classes.

So the Deans of Engineering and Science decided to work together and teach Engineering Professor 180 – Physics to scientists and engineers – to teach our engineering students. I started teaching during the epidemic about a year ago. I was 100 percent scared to go online. I had 125 students, all from a distance, but I got good reviews. We will give them strong examples of what the concepts mean, and this shows that work problems are important to him in terms of what is used in engineering.

Next semester I will be teaching Physics 181, pursuing my students over 180, which we hope will result in greater student success.

Finally, I will teach the calculus series. I like to turn students into problem solvers.

What was your big day on campus?

There were two, and they were very close: defending my dissertation; And the day I was interviewed for the current faculty position. These two events took place within two weeks of each other.

What did you want to do when you grew up?

I have been playing guitar for 28 years. Twice I dreamed of becoming a famous musician. Or pilot; I have a real love for aviation. But science has always come naturally. I didn’t have to do much at school to click. So I decided that what I really needed to do was learn how to do it right.

I still play the guitar. I recorded some albums with my old band, but now I play for myself. It relaxes the feeling that I have to stop everything to do it.

What did you learn from the student?

One of the most important things I learned was the Peer Counseling Program. We choose good students to run and be peer mentors. But after running for a while, I realized that they too needed help. So far no one was able to send in the perfect solution, which is not strange. They may not need to ask for help in the first place. But even our best students need help. They need to know how to use the resources, they need support.

Do you have any advice for young people yourself?

Maybe two things. I do not believe I entered the first 100%. For the past five years, I have put that and others in order to get to where I am. Math and science in high school were easy for me, I didn’t have to work hard. I didn’t have to do any homework. If I worked harder, I would probably have better opportunities for school.

Another piece of advice is perseverance. That is my favorite word and I try to use it with my students as much as possible. Not only for the sake of success but also for the sake of the struggle and that success. Do not give up.

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