US teacher uses powerlifting to explain physics
In 2006 when she first started weightlifting on the advice of a co-worker, Jennifer Gimmell – a College of DuPage (COD) physics adjunct faculty member – found it to be a fun activity. The grueling workouts provided an amazing stress reliever to help balance the mental challenges of studying subatomic particles at the same times working as a graduate student researcher at Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory’s collider detector in Batavia.
Now a member of COD’s faculty for over 10 years and a physics teacher at Benet Academy in Lisle, Gimmell said that she is surprised to find that weightlifting holds an unexpected correlation to teaching physics to students. Moreover, the sport provides an additional means to connect with college and high school students.
Gimmell’s desire to connect with students and her willingness to take on innovative approaches led to her being chosen as a Supporting Teachers to Encourage the Pursuit of Undergraduate Physics for Women (STEP UP) Ambassador by the American Physical Society. STEP UP Ambassadors are committed to empowering fellow teachers in shifting deep-seated cultural views and to inspiring young women to pursue physics degrees in college.
In 2015, Benet Academy student and U.S. Presidential Scholar Joseph A. Popelka chose her as his most influential teacher. Meanwhile, at COD, she received an Innovation Award from the college’s IDEA Center for a “flipped class” teaching method wherein students view video lectures at home and then spend the time in the classroom actively working on lesson assignments.
Just as in her teaching, Gimmell constantly pushes herself to excel in her lifting. She recently was named one of the top 30 female weightlifters in the sport by the World Powerlifting Organization (WPO) and, as a result, competed at the Arnold Sports Festival in Columbus, Ohio.
She said that this year’s Arnold Sports Festival provided an opportunity to push herself beyond her limits, a challenge she embraced. She set personal records with her dead lift and bench press, which also set a WPO record. Gimmell also achieved her first competition total lift of more than 1,400 pounds. She said she couldn’t be prouder of her performance She added that lifting has provided her with benefits that go beyond physical strength.