Article Written by Cambrie Kowal. Photo Provided by Dr. Hridaya Shah.
Dr. John Sinko is an accomplished physicist, astronomer and hobby enthusiast who has had a long and exciting journey to get him to where he is today. Although Sinko has been a Professor at St. Cloud State for ten years, he didn’t always want to be an educator.
“When I was something like nine or ten years old, I thought I wanted to be a fighter pilot,” said Sinko.
Eventually he would grow out of this dream to be drawn into the vast world of research. Sinko would discover in early adulthood that he loved to do research and this passion would lead him to becoming a professor.
Born in Ooltewah, Tennessee, a small town near Chattanooga, Sinko and his family bumped between Virginia and Tennessee through his childhood for his father’s work. Sinko graduated from Furman University in South Carolina and got his masters and PHD from the University of Alabama in Huntsville. From there Sinko worked for NASA for about six months as a temporary, on-call optical engineer. There he built six prototypes which received patents and publications. Sinko also journeyed to Japan for a year where he worked in a research lab.
“When I came back from Japan my wife had been teaching. She basically went through graduate school with me, and she got a job first up at Oberlin College and then later at Kenyon. I followed her into Ohio, and when I first came back there was this awkward six-month interval where I did not have a job and was trying to figure out what I was going to do,” said Sinko.
It was at the Ohio State University where Sinko’s journey into education would begin. For one year he taught a course for introduction to physics in nursing. While adjusting to this new environment Sinko would try to encourage his students to volunteer for physics demonstrations but found himself facing a quiet crowd.
“I really questioned whether I wanted to do teaching at all actually,” said Sinko, “but I sort of stuck with it and then my wife got a job up here at St. Bens. and St. Johns. I followed her up and ended up getting a job six months after we moved. It was a temporary part-time faculty job, but I replied and got a full-time ten-year position.”
Sinko describes his teaching style as collaborative. In his classrooms students are often doing group work and projects. He likes to have learning assistants in the room to give to his student’s extra resources during group work. Sinko also likes to keep his students focused on model meaning, which forces them to think about how certain models will work in the real world. It is nearly impossible to make a model that is completely true, but in the end building and testing models is the essence of physics.
“For different reasons I really enjoy both physics 234 (intro calculus-based physics) and physics 235 because I get to see people developing and wrestling with these core physics concepts. They are so basic and accessible and yet cause so much trouble for everyone including me,” Sinko said, “on the opposite side, my favorite things to do are these little 415 research classes where I’m working one-on-one or one-on-two with students trying to solve some physics problem in a lab.
When Sinko is not teaching he is keeping himself busy. There is a plethora of hobbies he enjoys. Most recently, Sinko has picked up woodworking, usually crafting frames. He enjoys rockhounding and playing the violin. He also really likes sword fighting and learning Historical European Martial Arts. Sinko would someday like to add painting and silversmithing to his tool belt of skills.
While Sinko is teaching, he is also always learning. “Sometimes I’ll come at a problem in a particular way that’s just not making sense to someone I am talking to, and I really have to step back and find other ways to approach that problem. I’ve figured out there are usually three and four ways to solve a problem,” said Sinko, “sometimes it’s good to be able to deploy one method or the other to do problem solving.”
Sinko has found life to be rewarding in a lot of different aspects. He is proud of the way he has been able to draw a fine line between his personal and professional life. Sinko is extremely proud of his kids as they continue to achieve early in school. The greatest compliment he receives as a professor is when a student finds his class equally hard, but still enjoyable.