This year I took my first-ever science class at Grove City College. The class was Fundamentals of the Universe (SCIC 201), also known as “Baby Physics” and the class was on Wednesday nights, taught by adjunct professor, Dr. Jim Downey.
Dr. Downey is a very interesting guy. He has an extensive background of education and is very experienced in his line of work. Dr. Downey graduated from Grove City College in 1981 with a B.S. in Physics. He then took a career in the Air Force, both active and reserve Air Force, and he stayed there for 27 years until her retired as a Colonel. Dr. Downey also has a Ph.D. in Aerospace Engineering from the University of Illinois, which means yes, he is a rocket scientist! Dr. Downey was a professor at Grove City College from 1992-2003, and then a Harvard Fellow from 2003-2004. He said Harvard was a very cool place to be and to learn. He also taught at the Army War College, which also was an incredible experience for him. Over these different educational experiences and career paths Dr. Downey has lived in six different states, with 11 different moves.
I asked Dr. Downey how it feels to be back on campus as an adjunct professor, and he said, “I have enjoyed the opportunity to teach physics again and particularly this course. When I was a full-time professor, I always loved teaching SCIC 201 as it was a way to expose mostly non-science people to a subject that I love and believe is important for people to know something about. I will admit when I first stepped back on campus it was a bit strange as so many years had gone by. However, it did not take long for the students to remind me how much fun teaching and learning with them can be. And it is always great to see my friends and former colleagues.”
Dr. Downey mentioned some differences in being a full-time professor and an adjunct professor here at Grove City College. He said that as a full-time professor you have essentially committed your life and career to the academy. But he said you also have the opportunity to interact with students on multiple occasions and in a variety of capacities. He said as an adjunct you also have a few advantages, such as, “the ability to focus on only one thing (assuming you are teaching just a single class). Another is a little bit of extra freedom in how you might engage the class because it is not your main job and perhaps the only thing that can happen is you are not invited back to teach again!” He also said the opportunity to bring in your professional experiences and perspectives can also be useful. Dr. Downey said the largest downsides are having to engage and disengage between your regular job and being an adjunct and a lack of opportunity to develop deeper relationships with students. You also are not really part of the rhythm and flow of campus life, so you can feel a certain detachment from the school.
I asked Dr. Downey if he finds it difficult to balance his day-to-day career and teaching here at Grove City. He said, “Yes. Clearly my priority must be to my work at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary. What this most often means is that everything related to teaching at Grove City is accomplished in the evening hours and on the weekends. I know there have been times when I would have liked to work more on the class and have had to make choices just to stay on track. And any good professor will always be asking how they can improve what they are doing. However, there are also opportunities to try and share how something like physics can relate to certain aspects of my day job. And the Seminary is committed to having faculty and staff serve outside of the institution in a variety of ways. Ultimately, as in all things in life, you must figure out how to balance it to best serve all interests – not always an easy task yet a reality of life.”
Lastly in our discussion, I talked to Dr. Downey about Grove City College, and what he likes so much about this place from once being a student, and professor, and now coming back to teach once again. Dr. Downey said, “I suppose this could sound trite, but it is, in fact, the students. I am often asked what I miss most about teaching since the last 15 years of my career have predominately been in administrative roles. The answer is always the same – interaction with students. It is a joy and a privilege to speak into the lives of people with the hope that you will play a small part in preparing them for their future and whatever God is calling them to do. My time at Grove City now spans a couple generations between when I was a student and my most recent experience as an adjunct. So, I now have the entire spectrum and hope that giving back in this way closes the loop on how Grove City influenced my own life path.”
Currently Dr. Downey is Vice President for Planning & Institutional Effectiveness at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, and he resides in Franklin Park with his wife, and daughter who is a senior in high school, with another daughter in graduate school. Dr. Downey is also an avid Steelers fan!