1in10 Success Stories: Nicholas Gross

I have a Ph.D. in physics and have been focused on science education and communication for the last two decades. What I like best about science is sharing it with people, sharing the understanding of the world around us through the lens of science. This made working with Raquell a good and easy fit for me. I began working with her early in the development of improvscience. Through our work together, combining science and play, she essentially became my improv coach!  

Working with Raquell, I learned how to create meaningful conversations—it’s in how we talk with each other. I developed the skill of teaching classes in an inclusive, student-centered and performative way. Using the guidelines of improv, inviting and building on student offerings is the key to the approach I adopted with undergraduate and graduate students in physics.

The focus on building community that I developed through working with Raquell is of particular import this year during the pandemic. With teaching having moved online, students lose the natural interactions that happen in a shared physical environment. To attend to this requires conscious and intentional community-building to be brought to the virtual classroom.

In addition to our co-teaching classes, I worked with Raquell in the development of improvscience workshops and the LIVE (Living Improv Experiment) shows—improvised entertainment featuring scientists' lives. It was great fun, and I really got to work my improv chops! 

My early co-teaching with Raquell also blossomed into my involvement with UX All Stars, serving poor and minority communities by introducing them to science. Raquell said, essentially, “I’m doing this thing, and you’re coming with me.” So I did, and I have been teaching classes there ever since. My most recent class—one I thought a fitting response to COVID-19—was on what’s cool about the physics of breaking bread.

There is a third way in which Raquell and I have been involved over the years and that is through CESTEMER, the conference she developed. I was involved with it since its inception and am now Chair of the Program Committee for Cultivating Ensembles, as the conference is now named. The sense of ownership involved in participating in committees is, again, something I developed through Raquell’s example of building communities.

All these tracks of association with Raquell and improvscience have greatly enhanced my career and the richness of my life.