Oral Histories

Dr. David Workman (part 1)


Dr. David Workman (part 1)


David Workman


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Dr. David Workman taught in the science department at IMSA for 21 years. He had previously taught at George Williams College in Downers Grove, until it closed. He interviewed for a job at IMSA and was one of the first faculty members to be hired in 1986. He describes the process as both an “adventure” and “an act of faith,” because at the time he was interviewed, not much was yet in place. Once the school year started, it took a lot of work to set up the facilities and classes, including ensuring all the labs had the supplies they needed and developing a new curriculum. Dr. Workman speaks highly of the other faculty he worked with in the sciences and other departments.

In 1989 Dr. Workman learned about a national competition, SuperQuest, in which teams from schools proposed research using a supercomputer. He helped a team put together a proposal, and they won. They got a trip to Cornell University to do research on the supercomputer there. For him, the experience confirmed IMSA’s potential and aspirations.

A member of the social science faculty, Bill Stepien, had been introduced to the concept of problem-based learning, and brought the idea to Dr. Workman. Together they proposed a new elective course called Science, Society, and the Future, designed to use a problem-based learning approach to scientific and ethical issues. The students had to do research and work through possible solutions. This work expanded through the Center for Problem-Based Learning, which worked to educate teachers to help them apply the approach. They also ran summer programs for teachers and students.

Dr. Workman believed that physics, chemistry, and biology should be taught in an integrated way at the high school level, not how those subjects are usually taught separately. He and two other science faculty, Dr. Dosch and Dr. Eggebrecht, did experiment with offering an integrated science course for sophomores for one year. It was a challenge and they faced opposition, but Dr. Workman believes the students got a lot out of the hands-on activities and problem-based approach. While it was never taught this way again, pieces of this approach were incorporated into the Scientific Inquiries curriculum.

Dr. Workman was also involved in an experiment with the calculus-based physics course. Realizing that the environment in the class was very competitive, and this disadvantaged the few female students, who were less likely to speak up and weren’t doing as well as their male classmates. The science faculty proposed an experiment where they would run an all-girls calculus-based physics class, alongside two regular classes, to see if they could find an approach that would work better for the female students. They used the same curriculum, but tried different teaching methods. By the end of the semester, the girls class was doing as well or better on all the evaluations. The next semester, those teaching methods were applied to the regular classes, with more collaborative learning and hands-on experiences, leveling the playing field. From that point on, the male and female students did comparably in these classes.

In his 21 years Dr. Workman feels over time IMSA became less innovative or willing to experiment. Nonetheless, overall he had a wonderful career at IMSA and found it both challenging and rewarding.

At the end of this part of the interview, he also discusses his research with students studying a heron rookery over several years.

Interviewer: Sara Goek. Duration: 1:22:26




curriculum, faculty, problem-based learning, research, science classes, summer programs


Oral history


Digital video recording


Copy permitted for study or investigation purposes, citing the source Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy. Any other use requires permission. For more information please contact archives@imsa.edu.

Dr. David Workman (part 1)