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Rachel Pedersen, Science

rachel-pedersenScience faculty member Rachel Pedersen’s love of physics goes back to her time spent at a small boarding school in Delaware. Raised an atheist, Rachel initially found her school’s mandatory chapel program perplexing.

“There was this sense of belief that I was so confused by,” says Rachel. “I tried to unpack it as an angsty sophomore. One of my religious studies assignments was to write a chapel talk and I just went into this philosophical tailspin. Then I took my first physics class as a junior and I saw it as this incredible path toward wisdom. I finally had this organized way of inquiring about the nature of reality and I appreciated that very deeply. I carried that through my senior year into college.”

Rachel attended Bates College, where she continued her physics studies but also “found” philosophy. She majored in both disciplines, and her philosophy senior thesis was titled “The Problem Of Evil In The Context Of Modern Cosmology.” She thought she wanted to teach at the higher-education level and earned her master’s in science at Brown University with the intention of pursuing a doctorate.

“But on the morning of my GRE, I was sitting and eating breakfast when I decided I wanted to teach at a boarding school. Instead of taking the test, I started writing my ‘philosophy of education’ that morning, which I ultimately submitted to Milton when I applied. It was an inspired moment.”

She started at Milton as a Penn Fellow, earning her M.Ed. from the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education while teaching. Rachel is now a full-time faculty member and resides in Millet House. She teaches Class IV Physics, Advanced Physics, and Epistemology of Modern Physics, an independent study she teaches to two seniors.

“In that class, we kicked off the year with a careful examination of statistical mechanics. We talked a lot about entropy and the second law of thermodynamics, which sort of fed off of the thesis I wrote in undergrad. So I was grateful to have that come back into the classroom.”

Class IV Physics is a required class for all freshmen, not all of whom may have a deep love of physics or the sciences. Rachel says she approaches this by asking them the question: “How do we know that we know what we know?”

“Throughout middle school, they have learned about the scientific process and how we follow this exact methodology to learn about our universe. But it can be contrived and there’s little ownership. So I try to flip it back on them because this might be the first time they really get asked that question. The Class IV year is exciting because they’re getting their independence for the first time and slowly developing some intellectual autonomy.”

In addition to teaching, Rachel coaches sailing, freshmen squash and helps out with the climbing program.