Carlito Maca '22, physics major, is a 2021 STEM Star

Carlito Maca ’22 pursued physics education even though Lafayette does not have a structured “physics education” major, and plans to become a teacher.

By Shannon Sigafoos

“I’m a teacher. All I need are minds for molding,” Dewey Finn infamously said in School of Rock.

When Carlito Maca ’22 joined us for their STEM Stars photo shoot, they were just returning to campus from March Elementary School, where they had been tutoring young students and hopefully making the same impression on them that Maca’s teachers have always made on the student teacher. 

“My high school English teacher once told me that your hope as a teacher is that students can remember something from your class years down the road, and that what they remember is something special,” recalls Maca. “I want to help students realize things that they didn’t know about themselves.” 

Despite Lafayette’s lack of a structured physics education program, Maca and their peers Amelia Reilly ’22 and Evan Braasch ’22 have all taken the initiative and found opportunities to pursue their passions for both physics and teaching. Maca remembers being inspired by watching an inclusivity panel involving teachers from all over the Easton region, and finding how much they wanted to do for their students to be very “powerful and motivating.” Maca became hooked on the fact that “there’s something really engaging about trying to figure out how to get someone to understand something or see something.”

“I’m really impressed by Carlito’s intellectual curiosity. They read widely, on a variety of topics, outside of class. It’s really fun having a student who brings new ideas to every office hour and gives me book recommendations,” shares  Zoe Boekelheide, associate professor of physics

Maca has taken courses in educational psychology and, along with Braasch, interviewed Boekelheide for a podcast about science education. They also act as a supplemental instructor in the Physics Department and are working on a minor in philosophy, where they think a lot about epistemology and how it relates to education.

“There’s a particular skill set about physics that I find really interesting. It’s different from math in that, in math, they do everything very logically. You define a set of first steps and then you work everything logically from there. On the physics side of things, we discover these principles and concepts that I think of as tools in a toolbox, and I try to impart that to my students,” explains Maca. “You have specific situations in physics where you want to be able to recognize those situations, apply the right tool, and interpret your result so that it’s consistent with the world.” 

More than a century after Albert Einstein first revolutionized our views of the world with his fundamental principles, Maca looks up to the famous physicist’s models of understanding and aligns them with their own views of educational processes. It has caused Maca to step back and evaluate how other students are perceiving information the first time they’re hearing it, and how they will apply it to STEM fields in the future. 

“Growing up, there were certain aspects of my identity that I always felt like I needed to suppress from everyone else because everyone saw those aspects as different and undesirable. As a teacher, my hope is to provide a space where students can freely express their authentic selves and see themselves as the complete and valuable human beings that they are,” shares Maca. “I’m also really into music, so I want to share those things with students in a way that’s fun and makes everyone feel involved.” 

Spoken like a true fan of Dewey Finn.

Read about other STEM Stars.

Categorized in: Academic News, Innovation and Research, News and Features, Physics, Research, STEM, Students