“Earth is way bigger than, like, a sandwich.”

Photo Credit: Dr. Chris Land
Photo Credit: Dr. Chris Land

“The Earth is way bigger than, like, a sandwich.” – Jon Swift

Indeed it is, and that’s why it’s amazing that the Thacher community has been fortunate enough to welcome Dr. Jon Swift into our community. Many students have met him; Dr. Swift has been a visiting Anacapa scholar in the past. However, the difference between an Anacapa scholar and a full-time faculty member is notable.

“Dr. Swift has been visiting my astronomy classes on and off for about 2-3 years, and when he came for a week as an Anacapa Scholar, I think he got a good taste of what it would be like to teach here, and we got a good taste of what it would be like to have him teach here,” Dr. Chris Vyhnal comments. “When he first expressed interest in joining the faculty, I immediately saw the potential to bring a world class research scholar to the campus, invigorate the science and math programs, and upgrade the observatory to a fully functional research facility that could involve Thacher students in cutting-edge scientific research.”

Currently Dr. Swift is teaching senior Calculus, sophomore Math 4 Honors, and freshman Physics.

“It’s a learning experience for me,” Dr. Swift admits. “I’ve spent the past 15 years working with graduate students and some undergrads. The education philosophy at that level is very different.”

Dr. Swift’s unique background at colleges and universities provides him a degree of insight that he hopes to bring to Thacher to better educate students and prepare them for the level of work that will be expected from them in higher education.

“How different should [the education philosophy] be?” Dr. Swift questions. “For me it’s just a whole exploration of what’s the right way to prepare kids for when they get out of here.”

Why the transition from university to high school?

“The change was not just like, ‘I wanna teach high school instead of undergrads,’” Dr. Swift remarks. “There are a lot of different elements to it. The paradigm for teaching at the undergrad level doesn’t mesh with the lifestyle I want to live at all. There’s a large expectation for research and publications. It’s a high demand career that is very narrowly focused. You basically spend all of your time doing one thing for the rest of your life. If someone’s interested in that, it’s a good choice. Personally, I have a very broad range of interests in my life and that translates better to this atmosphere than an undergraduate institution. Thacher is a place where I feel like there’s many different things I have to offer and this is a place where things are honored.”

Dr. Swift’s presence on campus has not just been limited to academia, however. He has joined several other faculty members in singing at assemblies and the Winter Banquet. He is also co-coaching the JV girls’ soccer team.

Dr. Swift supporting the soccer program. Photo Credit: Béa Pierrepont '18
Dr. Swift, the coach, supporting the girls’ soccer program. Photo Credit: Béa Pierrepont ’18

“I love it,” Dr. Swift says with a laugh. “I’ve only just started to realize I might be too competitive for the team. They have so much stuff going on in their lives here. For a lot of them, JV soccer is a way for them to go out and do stuff. Although— we had one game against Laguna Blanca and I was so impressed by the way that they played and the way that they competed. We ended up getting a tie from that game. It was a very talented LB team. It was really amazing— kinda inspiring. They do have it in them. I’m just trying to figure out how to connect.”

So what’s in store over the next few years?

“Being here full time is very different from being an Anacapa Scholar,” Dr. Swift notes. “I’m planning classes that aren’t going to show up for another two years. I’m helping [Mr. Kurt] Meyer and [Dr. Chris] Vyhnal to redirect math and science curricula such that it prepares everybody a little bit better for entering into the kind of world that students will be entering.”

Data analysis and astronomy are both courses that future (and possibly current) Thacher students will have the opportunity to explore.

Students have been eager to welcome Dr. Swift into the community, whether seniors or freshmen.

“I have him for Calculus,” remarked Ben Connor ’15. “He is one of the coolest guys I’ve ever met. He’s really patient and supportive and I’ve only been in his class for a week.”

“Jon Swift is my physics teacher and he is really great,” commented Jane Gamble ’18. “He is very patient with our class and always has multiple ways of explaining it, just in case the way he initially explained it doesn’t make sense to everyone. His lessons are always fun, interesting, and relevant, and I always leave class knowing something more than I did before.”

It’s certain that Dr. Swift will bring his unique experiences and expertise to the Thacher community. As the rest of the year progresses, the school hopes to see Dr. Swift integrate himself even more fully into the community and continue to build on what looks like an excellent start.

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