Mendocino College Faculty in Focus: Tim Beck
When Mendocino College (MC) professor of astronomy, physics and engineering, Tim Beck, finished graduate school at the University of California at Santa Cruz (UCSC) in 2008, he got a call from a friend telling him that MC was looking for a part-time physics teacher. Although he was being courted by companies like Google, in the Silicon Valley, he already knew that he wanted to teach at a community college, so he came to Ukiah for an interview. He laughs as he recalls that he was hired exactly one hour before his first class began! (And he stayed anyway!)
Due to the laws regulating how many units a part-time faculty member can teach, Beck was not able to earn enough money at MC the second semester to pay his expenses, so he took a full-time position at UCSC. His MC students, however, begged him to stay, so they could complete their physics courses in Ukiah. Luckily, it turned out that Beck was able to fulfill his commitments at UCSC while still making the 200 mile round trip commute to teach his classes each week in Ukiah. "My UCSC job paid the bills," he says, "and the MC job just covered my gas for the commute. But it was great experience," he notes, "and it led to a full-time position here."
Beck is proud that enrollments in his classes have quadrupled since he started teaching at MC. Furthermore, "having the physics courses reliably offered has increased enrollments in all the sciences," he says.
Originally from Los Angeles, California, Beck earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in physics and mathematics from Lawrence University in Appleton, Wisconsin. He continued his education at UCSC, earning both a Master's degree and a Ph.D. in particle physics.
One of his most memorable jobs as a student was working on Project BABAR at the Stanford Linear Accelerator. "There were 600 physicists from all over the world working on this project," says Beck. "We were crashing particles together and making B-quarks that had not existed naturally since moments after the Big Bang. Then we studied how they behaved in different situations. It was exciting stuff!" he says.
Beck says he has always liked teaching; he recalls being allowed to help other kids in grade school, when he had his work finished. He says he had some terrible teachers before college, and he first thought of becoming a teacher himself because he was sure he could do better. "In college and grad school, I had a lot of wonderful teachers," he says, "and they finally inspired me to make teaching a career."
Beck says the best part of his job is that he gets to work with serious, focused students. "They have already taken calculus and chemistry," he says, "and they are ready to work hard." He says the most challenging part of his job is being the only person in his department.
He jokingly describes his teaching style as being like a "totalitarian regime." "I push my students hard," he explains, "because the classes I teach are important gateways to other classes where they will need to know the information."
Interested in science since childhood, Beck says he is fascinated by mathematical structure and how it applies to nature.
Besides science, Beck enjoys reading history and American literature. He brews his own beer, and loves outdoor activities such as hiking and abalone diving. His wife, Rosemary, is a chemistry lab tech at MC.