This archived article was written by: Caitlin Wright
From his father majoring in physics, to both of his young daughters sharing his love of science, Michael Cross loves teaching at the College of Eastern Utah.
Throughout his schooling, Cross took classes that pointed him toward a career in pharmaceuticals. This was his plan through college and graduate school, as he majored in organic chemistry while working on his doctorate degree.
As a grad student, Cross was required to be a T.A. [teacher’s assistant] in several classes. He liked it, but the class sizes were just too big for his liking. “I like teaching, I just didn’t want to teach that many students because then you are just lecturing and you can’t interact with the students.”
As Cross was finishing his Ph.D last summer, he had the opportunity to come to CEU and fill in for six weeks. He looked at it as a good way to get away from graduate school for a while and, since it was a smaller college with smaller classes, thought it would be good to try out. He came to Price and started teaching in July 2008, “I love it here at CEU.”
He always knew that he enjoyed teaching, but that he never wanted to teach at a large university, but never considered the small schools with class sizes ranging between 10-30 students. It was, however, what he wanted. “I came down here and I was very pleasantly surprised at how nice it is.” When Dr. George Uhlig retired, CEU needed someone to fill in, and he was conveniently available and agreed to teach for a year.
Cross’s short term goal for this year is to make certain teaching is what he wants to do for the rest of his life. He explains, “I want people to understand chemistry, and I want people to get excited about it. Chemistry is fun.” In order to help his students enjoy his chemistry classes, Cross uses several techniques including magic tricks, board games and juggling.
While Cross is in Price, he would like to find some fossils. He enjoys going out on the desert and finding little shells and such. “I would like to find an actual dinosaur bone.” He likes to take his children out and look for things.
This job is ideal for Cross because he enjoys teaching and the many benefits of this career. When his students get time off from school, he gets time off, and he has plenty of time to spend with his family. His long-term goals are to just find a steady job, teach and raise his kids.
Cross has always been shy and it was difficult for him to get up in front of people, and even though it doesn’t bother him as much now, he used to be slightly intimidated by larger groups of people. “The first day or two when your students don’t know you, you don’t know them and it’s just a big group of strangers … it is kind of scary.” But Cross states that he is overcoming this and still loves teaching.
The easiest part of teaching for Cross is when he gets the opportunity to sit down one-on-one with a student and teach them. It is difficult to bring all these students together in a class, with some of them knowing chemistry really well and others being introduced to it for the first time. This requires teaching them on many different levels. “But one-on-one, you can talk to the person and find out where they are coming from … and kind of tailor the way you explain it to their level.”
The most rewarding part of teaching for Cross is the look on a student’s face, who has struggled with chemistry, when the light comes on, the moment when they have no idea what’s going on and then all at once it just clicks. “I really feel like I’m doing my job and that it’s not just going over their head. At some point they are really paying attention and then suddenly it makes sense to them.”
In his spare time, Cross loves to play board games. He has over 200 games at his house. A lot of them he will use in his classes and tie them into what he is teaching. He likes to go hiking with his wife and two daughters. He also admits to performing card tricks and juggling.
Cross’s intelligent method of teaching, coupled with his fun and interesting ways of helping students understand and enjoy chemistry make him an extremely valuable new addition to CEU.