Faculty profile: Dr. William Newman
|Dr. William Newman discusses a problem with Maansi Raheja '14 during a chemistry class.
With his safety goggles in place, Dr. William Newman moves among the lab tables in his Wilson Hall classroom, asking questions, giving advice and gently steering the class in the right direction.
On this day, the young chemists in Newman’s AP Chemistry class are decomposing silver oxide into silver and oxygen so they can determine the formula of silver oxide. Having the students work in groups and actually doing chemistry – as opposed to just studying it – is something that Newman, who joined Western Reserve Academy’s Science Department this fall, stresses in his classes.
“My big goal is to have them do chemistry as much as we can – I keep days sacred for lab time,” Newman said. “The other big piece for me is social learning. The students learn so much more when they are working together, talking with each other while I move from group to group.
“That is something I discovered while working on my bachelor’s degree at Virginia Tech. We were really struggling on a problem in class, so we all got together one night and realized we could solve problems so much better as a group.”
Newman, who holds master’s degrees from the University of Connecticut and The College of New Jersey, as well as a Ph.D. from Purdue, joined WRA after spending four years at Ralph Ellison Academy, a charter school in Chicago. There, he was the team lead for mathematics, science and Spanish, and taught chemistry and geometry. At WRA, he teaches chemistry and AP Chemistry and is a softball coach.
A love of math and the impact of his high school chemistry teacher influenced Newman to study chemistry at Virginia Tech, with the idea that he would one day be a “lab rat” at a pharmaceutical company. But that all changed when he became a teaching assistant – and got over his dislike of teenagers.
“Teaching was something I never thought I would do,” Newman said. “As I headed into college I couldn’t stand teenagers. But then I started working as a TA and I just fell in love with teaching. At that point I looked into it and found out I could get a master’s degree and go right into teaching.”
But what about being in a classroom with teenagers?
“After a year or two in the classroom, I started to realize that I actually enjoy working with teenagers,” Newman said with a laugh. “There is a huge difference between having teenagers in your house and working with them. The students here are so invested in their education and I get asked the most amazing questions. I love living in the dorm (Newman and his dog, Diego, reside in Wood House) and talking with the boys about school work, but also about their lives and learning where they come from.”
Prior to working at the charter school in Chicago, Newman spent five years as an assistant professor at the Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago. He also taught at Purdue while working on his doctorate, as well as at Montgomery High School and Perth Amboy High School, both in New Jersey.
While he enjoyed working and living in Chicago for the past decade, Newman had reached a point in his life where he was ready for a new professional challenge.
“When I first took a job in Chicago, my daughters, Juliana and Olivia, were in elementary school, so in my free time I was spending time with them,” Newman said. “Now that they have reached high school age they are busy with school activities, so I thought, ‘What do I want to do? What interests me?’
“I heard from (Assistant Head of School) Kate Mueller about the chemistry position, read about WRA and realized this was what I wanted to do. I wanted a position where I would be in the classroom full time and also be able to work with students outside of the classroom.
“This is such a great opportunity to teach chemistry, be in the classroom full time and work with the students on so many different levels.”
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