It looks like taking a risk and becoming a teaching assistant in undergraduate school led David Zwick to his life’s work.
“That was a major turning point when I started as a teaching assistant,” said Zwick, 22, of Gainesville, FL. “It convinced me to pursue a PhD and also helped me figure out my teaching philosophy; I want to see every student succeed.”
If it’s possible to be a natural teacher, Zwick may be one. During his first semester as a TA, he taught numerical methods for engineers to a group of 20 students. An older student dropped the class, but showed up the next semester sitting in the front row. The student had taken time off because he lacked the math literacy needed to be an engineer.
“Despite this, he decided to try again and chose me as his recitation leader because I was the only teaching assistant he had found that made accommodations for every student to succeed despite their background,” Zwick wrote in a personal essay to support his application for a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship.
The older student ended up succeeding in the class, and so did Zwick; not only was he named outstanding ASU teaching assistant as an undergrad, he was awarded the NSF fellowship earlier this year.
“I was so excited [about the NSF award] I called my family in Arizona” without noting the western state is two hours behind Florida, said Zwick. “It seems like doors are opening for me even now in graduate school.”
Fortunately, Zwick’s father, Robin, was up getting ready for work at the time the phone rang.
Robin Zwick, a manufacturing engineer for The Boeing Company (Kennedy Space Center, FL), was David Zwick’s inspiration to pursue a degree in mechanical engineering. The older Zwick worked in a machine shop to support his family while earning his undergraduate and master’s degrees.
“Even now, I still remember watching him study at night after a long day of work,” said David Zwick.
Unlike his dad, David Zwick is headed for a career in academia and plans to study and research fluid mechanics, specifically particle interactions in the presence of shock waves. The work has practical applications in volcanic eruptions, geysers, powder snow avalanches, explosives, dust storms, and other phenomena.
Speaking of dust storms, one of Zwick’s earliest inspirations came when he was a child and his father took him on a tour of Boeing’s Mesa, AZ, facility, production site of the AH-64 Apache helicopter.
“I was captivated by the complex geometrical patterns that formed in the desert dust and swirled around in the air as I watched helicopters land,” Zwick wrote to the NSF. “At the time, I did not realize my observations related to the field of fluid flow, but the experiences provided lasting impressions that continue to motivate me to advance my education so that I can educate others.”
This article was first published in the July 2016 edition of Manufacturing Engineering magazine. Read all of the 2016 30 Under 30 Profiles as a PDF.