Faculty Profile: Jim Jadrich
June 26, 2008
Growing up, he had two ambitions.
"To be a professional baseball player … or a mad scientist because all I knew about scientists is what you see in the movies, and they are usually crazy people. So I thought that would be kind of interesting,” said Calvin professor of science education Jim Jadrich.
The baseball dream did not pan out. The mad scientist dream, on the other hand… . “When I was getting older, I knew there weren’t too many mad scientists’ jobs out there. I thought, well, maybe I’ll teach,” Jadrich explained.
Jadrich became interested in science around the age of six or seven. It was an unlikely interest for a boy in an inner-city neighborhood of St. Louis, Mo. “I didn’t grow up in an area where people did science or went to college,” he said. “So I was a bit of an oddball that way.” Family life was not easy for Jadrich. “I come from a very dysfunctional family,” he said. “A lot of alcoholism and kind of an inner-city growing up where things are a little rough and hard.”
As a result of his background, Jadrich admits he became reticent. “I basically have a social phobia. People scared me to death,” he explained.
While Jadrich was in high school, his family moved to Fresno, Calif., and in 1978, he went to Fresno State University to pursue his undergraduate degree in physics. “I did not grow up as a Christian, but I think God’s hand was already on me, driving me in that direction,” he said.
During college, Jadrich worked at a movie theater. “The manager of the movie theater liked to hire Christians because he knew they were honest and they worked hard,” he said, adding that he was hired because he knew how to program computers. After working there a while, Jadrich became curious about the Bible studies the Christian employees would hold. “I invited myself because they were really nice people, and I had never met nice people before. Then, through that, I eventually became a Christian.”
Jadrich finished his bachelor’s degree and went on to pursue his PhD in physics from the University of California-Davis. “During that time I decided I did not want to do physics; I was moving into science education.”
After receiving his doctorate in 1991, Jadrich teamed up with his graduate advisor to conduct post-doctoral research on how to best educate people to think scientifically. “That was really the direction God was calling me in,” he reasoned.
Jadrich admitted that at least some of the motivation to do a post doc was to support his family. He married his wife Robyn, an Australian he met in graduate school, in 1986. They have two children, Sarah and Michael.
In the first year of his post doc, a copy of The Banner fell into his hands, and inside it was an advertisement for a science education professor at Calvin College. Jadrich landed the job, a term position, and in 1992 the family moved from California to Grand Rapids. After that semester, the family moved again to Chicago, where Jadrich worked at Fermi National Accelerator Lab as a program director for their science education center.
In 1993 Calvin offered him a tenure track position, and Jadrich accepted under one condition, that he and his family could spend one year in Australia before he committed to his new job. The physics department agreed with his terms, and the family settled in Mt. Evelyn, on the fringes of Melbourne, where Jadrich taught middle and high school science classes. The family re-settled in Grand Rapids in 1994.
Jadrich teaches courses in science education. “Most people have a difficult time learning scientific concepts and learning to think scientifically. In science education research we try to uncover the best ways to help people learn science,” he explained.
He is not exactly living out his childhood dream of becoming a mad scientist; he is not huddled over a beaker, concocting potions in an underground lab. But he is working in the field he loves, equipping educators with the tools to make this world scientifically literate. Jadrich was honored in 2005 with the Presidential Award for Exemplary Teaching.
"Even though I am afraid of people, I like people a lot, so I really, really like my students,” he said. “But most importantly, God has called me to do this. When you are doing what he has called you to do, you are extremely happy to do it because it fits right.”
~by Katie Landan, communications and marketing