In just a few short years as a physics professor at Gustavus, Dr. Darsa Donelan has become a pillar of the Gustie community.
Her excellence in the physics field, dedication to her students, and altruistic engagement in campus life make Darsa stand out as an excellent professor.
Between her roles as professor, adviser for Queers & Allies, A Moment of Magic, and the Society of Physics Students, and her time cosplaying as a Borg, Darsa is an exceptionally unique inspiration to the Gustavus family.
It doesn’t take long to notice that Darsa’s students love her teaching presence.
“As my general physics lab professor, Darsa, with a big smile or filled with laughter, always takes her time to ensure students understand and engage with the material,” Junior Lotus Schifsky said.
Darsa’s love for physics also translates quite effectively into her classes.
“Her passion for physics is extremely contagious, [and] those around her come to a similar fascination with the material,” Schifsky said.
Evidently, Darsa’s methods don’t stop at informing her students, but succeed in inspiring the people she connects with.
Not surprisingly, Darsa sees her teaching role as a highly creative opportunity.
“I like that I have a lot of freedom to try out new pedagogical techniques. [If] I were at a big university, I would not be able to try [new things] because they’re very standardized.
“And here, if I learned about something cool at a workshop or in an article, I can just try it out,” Darsa said.
Undoubtedly, incorporating this mindset of constant curiosity and improvement yields a great deal of interest from Darsa’s students.
“She brings energy enthusiasm and fun to our daily interactions. All the members of the physics department feel lucky to have her as a department colleague.” — Paul Schifsky
“Her passion for physics and life is evident in her interactions with students,” Schifsky said.
Darsa is clearly hitting the mark when it comes to engaging her students, but she’s certainly not ready to settle.
“I should not expect that I can come in and know how to do everything. My PhD is in physics, not education, so I can learn a lot from watching [other faculty],” Darsa said.
She also highly encourages her students to give her advice on how to improve.
“There’s still things I need to learn, and I’ll ask [my students] what I can improve on, what’s working, what’s not working. And they respect me enough to be honest with me about that.
“[They] are very good about giving me opinions and helping me become a better teacher,” Darsa said.
Darsa’s outstandingly attentive personality compliments her teaching style beautifully. For her, teaching isn’t something you accomplish with a nine-to-five mindset.
“[Darsa] is extremely patient… More often than not, she will take time out of her evenings to come to Olin to work with students.
“She is often in Olin until 11 p.m. or even midnight. Her ability to relate to students and explain tough concepts is extremely valuable,” Schifsky said.
Darsa’s genuine nature is evident to faculty as well. “Besides a high level of competence, Darsa has a refreshing and unique personality.
There is no pretense, what you see is what you get. What you get is kindness, generosity, and quirkiness,” Physics faculty member, Dr. Paul Saulnier said.
Darsa’s relatively new role in the department has impressed and inspired many of her colleagues.
“She brings energy, enthusiasm, and fun to our daily interactions. All the members of the physics department feel lucky to have her as a department colleague,” Saulnier said.
One of the most remarkable part of Darsa’s personality is her fascination with sci-fi and cosplay culture, especially the Borg creatures from Star Trek.
Saulnier seems rather proud of this. “The Gustavus physics department is the only department on campus that has a Borg as a faculty member,” Saulnier said.
Darsa’s students love her cosplaying abilities as well. “One of my favorite memories of Darsa revolves around her costumes.
“During holidays like Halloween or nerdy days, she will show up to campus dressed up as characters. On May 4, (May the fourth be with you), she walked into our classroom dressed up as Princess Leia.
On Halloween, she came in dressed up as a futuristic zombie,” Schifsky said.
Darsa even manages to combine her passions for physics and sci-fi from time to time. She lectures at a Dr. Who convention in Florida called Time Lord Fest, often marrying her expertise in physics with themes from the Dr. Who universe.
“I make sure that it’s an easy to assimilate lecture, but just on different topics with Dr. Who. In the past I’ve explained how the Tardis could travel through time because it’s powered by a black hole.
“And the talk I’m giving this year is on the quantum physics behind the weeping angels,” Darsa said.
Both inside and outside of the classroom, Professor Donelan reinforces the fact that science really can be fun.
When she isn’t busy empowering young scientists or exploring the physics behind time travel, Darsa loves biking, running, spending time with her cats, and being the best auntie ever for her triplet sisters.
She also enjoys diving into her own research, with past projects including on-site work with NASA.
“My area of research focuses on planetary atmospheres and this summer I’ve got two students working with me on that. [We’re] mostly focused on our own solar system,” Darsa said.
When I asked her how environmental threats played into her research, Darsa explained her role as Vice Chair of the President’s Environmental Sustainability Council.
“Because I know how to analyze data from an atmosphere, I can very easily see the damage we’ve done […] I encourage students to do things, especially in Olin Hall and [the Physics] floor to turn off the lights and compost and recycle. I call them out whenever they don’t because it is important,” Darsa said.
Darsa has lived up to the honor if this year’s final Gustie of the Week with flying colors.
If you ever run into her around campus—costumed or not—it’ll certainly be to your advantage to talk to her.
You’ll definitely learn a thing or two.