Former NASA Consultant Inspires Next Generation of Science Leaders

Early in his career, Jan Kilduff ran tests for NASA to ensure astronauts would be safe in their space suits while aboard the Space Shuttle.
 
These days, Dr. Kilduff’s tests are no longer a matter of life and death – except, maybe,  in the mind’s of his JSerra Catholic High School students.
 
Kilduff, of Rancho Santa Margarita, is the popular science department chair. He’s known for his wry sense of humor and uncanny ability to make complex courses such as chemistry, physics and pre-calculus accessible. 

Dr. Kilduff

 He’s also known for his remarkable dedication to students.
 
“The joke around campus is that he lives in his classroom because he can be found there as early as 6:30 a.m. – and as late as 8 p.m.,” says principal Tom Waszak.
 
It’s not just the students – and teachers – who appreciate him, Waszak notes. “Alumni regularly come back to visit his class because they know how much he cares for his students as well as how well he prepared them for college. He’s a gem.”
 
Dr. Kilduff, who has a Ph.D from the University of Texas, recently shared his experiences in the private sector and why he hopes to be teaching at JSerra into the foreseeable future.
 
Why did you leave such prestigious work to teach?  
 Due to budget constraints the focus of our week went from new exploratory research and projects to more routine.  The work required lots of training of personnel which is very similar teaching where you have a captive audience and you want to make the time together worthwhile for all parties involved.  

What do you like best about teaching at JSerra?
What’s special about teaching students at a private school like JSerra is the sense of a school community we develop with the students.  At JSerra teachers are required to be available before and after school to help students on an individual basis which is achievable due to smaller class sizes.  The many extra curricular activities such as weekly masses, retreats as well as the many sporting activities also contribute to student’s and teachers getting to know each other better and this promotes a better educational environment.  
 
How did the past year’s crop of students compare with those of the past?
It seems, that every year each new crop of students at JSerra is getting stronger academically and I am continually expanding the content of my classes to meet the students thirst for knowledge.
 
What did you enjoy most in your work with NASA?  
 The most exciting aspects of my work at NASA were the new projects we were assigned that required the mastering and use of all the new scientific instruments currently available.  It was like working in a giant toy store and getting paid to learn how to play with the most expensive and neatest toys. 
 
What do you like best about being a teacher?
The greatest satisfaction from teaching is feeling appreciated by the students, which they show with a simple “thank you” or after they come back from college stating my classes made their college classes easy.
 
Where do you see yourself in five years?
In 5 years I hope to be still right here at JSerra teaching AP Physics.
 
What do you tell those who say they don’t like science or math?
I tell those students that they probably had an unfortunate experience and that learning math and especially science can be fun… that they will gain such a great understanding of how the world works around them.
 
Which subject is more challenging: physics or calculus? Why?
Physics is more challenging than calculus because at higher levels of physics, after setting up and defining the equations to a problem – which is the difficult part – you then use calculus as a tool to calculate the answer.
 
Most interesting student experiment?
In physics we do an experiment where students launch a projectile across the room from a table into garbage can on the floor.  Students measure a projectile’s launch velocity, launch angle and table height and must calculate the correct distance to have it land in the can.  They can only launch after their calculations are complete. They pass if it goes in and if not the can is moved, they must find their mistakes, and recalculate a new landing spot.
 
Can you share something the JSerra community would be surprised to learn about you?  
The closet in my room does not really lead to Narnia and I don’t sleep in my classroom.