Phillip Reutter ’23 remembers the moment when associate professors of physics Stamatios Kyrkos, Ph.D., and Christopher Bass, Ph.D., told him about the Rochester Institute of Technology’s Research Experience for Undergraduates program (REU). It was early one morning in the fall of 2021, and Reutter received an email from them. As Kyrkos explained then, and as Reutter would soon discover for himself, the REU provides 10 individuals from across the country with the opportunity to take part in faculty-mentored research projects focused on student success in the fields of Science, Technology, Engineering and Math, commonly known as STEM. The program was highly competitive, Kyrkos cautioned, but it would ideal for someone like Reutter, who aspires to be a secondary education teacher in physics and mathematics and, ultimately, a superintendent. He decided to “shoot his shot” and apply.
The shot landed miraculously. Reutter, who majors in physics and minors in math, spent eight weeks on RIT’s campus surrounded by nine other like-minded undergraduates. The Mount Kisco, N.Y., native studied metacognition: the reflective portion of a persons’ planning process. Metacognition is often divided into three stages: planning, overcoming obstacles, and seeking help. Understanding this field is extremely valuable for an emerging educator like Reutter. The discipline has been credited with helping students move from between merely being familiar with a topic to immersing and applying ones’ thinking into it in a way that betters the world. The REU program is bound to have tremendous practical applications for Reutter. His understanding of metacognition will allow him to point his future students toward strategies they can use to overcome academic obstacles. That is particularly important in teaching subjects as universal as math and physics.
“Math is a language all its own and, physics essentially the applied form of mathematics,” Reutter said. “They may seem complicated and mysterious because nobody was taught to understand, they were taught to do. But the reality is that they aren’t really all that different than other disciplines that are centered around language, like the humanities.”
Over the course of his time at RIT, Reutter gained a greater understanding of what research is – and is not. He acknowledged that, when he used to imagine someone conducting research, he envisioned a solitary figured sitting alone at a computer for hours on end, pounding out some long and complex thesis or formula. He discovered that research is actually much more collaborative than that. Instead of being “cooped up in a lab all day,” he found himself becoming part of a community of scholars striving to achieve a shared goal. That made him appreciate the work even more. Now working in the field of STEM education doesn’t just feel like something he wants to do. It feels like something he is ready to do.
“I felt like was exactly where I was supposed to be,” he said. “My mentors and my newfound friends, who I consider almost akin to me, inspired me in ways that I didn’t realize were possible. I thank them and everyone for making me a better person by just how they are.”
Above: Phil Reutter ’23 (fourth from right) is joined by other participants in the Research Experience for Undergraduates program at the Rochester Institute of Technology.
This story is part of a series on Le Moyne students who completed internships in a variety of fields, including politics, risk management and insurance, and media, during the summer of 2022. Le Moyne's Office of Career Advising and Development works closely with students to help them find these kinds of opportunities, which will serve them well post-graduation.