Teacher Feature: Dr. Elena Hartoonian

Kamila Kydykova, ‘18

Dr. Hartoonian, a new math teacher at Bard who has a PhD in physics, has had an unusual career trajectory. She graduated from Caltech (California Institute of Technology) with a degree in Applied Physics. Upon enrolling at Caltech, she began pursuing Electrical Engineering because she hoped to develop electronic devices that would be used in space shuttles. The thought of creating instruments that would help people learn more about the wonders of the universe enticed her. Nevertheless, she frequently found herself escaping the lab in order to find a place to sit under a tree- “an advantage of being in southern California,” she notes- and ponder the engineering concepts that she had been learning. Being surrounded by the soothing and serene nature gave an opportunity for Dr. Hartoonian to see things under a new perspective, similar to how Isaac Newton was inspired to discover the concept of gravity by an apple falling on his head while he was sitting under a tree. The experience taught her that she was much more concerned with the mathematics behind the concepts she was studying than the engineering applications, and that she felt limited to working in labs, which she described as “confined.” After obtaining her physics degree, she discovered that her career options were more geared towards laboratory settings. Hence, she decided to pursue an advanced degree in mathematics. “It was the perfect fit for me,” she claims. “I could solve interesting mathematical problems free from space limitations. Plus, I started to see a certain beauty in advanced mathematics that spoke to the artist in me.”

Dr. Hartoonian’s previous teaching experience has been at a college. It never occurred to her that she would teach math in a high school, but it became evident that that was what she wanted to do during her demo lecture at BHSEC. The students’ attitudes demonstrated their curiosity, mindfulness, and motivation to learn. They asked thoughtful questions, were attentive and helpful in creating a positive and supportive class environment. Now, she teaches both a high school and a college course here. “Each class has its own personality I think teaching in high school makes me a stronger college instructor and vice versa”.

Dr. Hartoonian shares a common goal of other teachers to pave a way for her students’ successes in life. She wants to challenge her students to think deeply and critically, helping them grow as young intellectuals. Her advice to her current or future students is to keep their minds open to new ideas, concepts, and thought processes. “I feel that at times we decide that we are not interested in (or even not good at) a subject too soon without actually having a good knowledge of it. Give yourself the opportunity to experience a diverse range of disciplines and you may be surprised at what you find out about yourself”. In addition, Dr. Hartoonian likes to challenge herself. She believes in feminist views and aspires to push boundaries and defy stereotypes. She has taken part in many traditionally male-dominated fields, such as math and physics, and has managed to stay true to her feminine self. “Where that balance is and how you achieve it is different for each person. It hasn’t been a trivial task for me but rather an intricate, at times challenging, and a rewarding journey.”

Outside of school, Dr. Hartoonian is a well-rounded individual with tons of interesting hobbies and activities. She likes to play chess, paint, watch the TV- series Sherlock, and practice her Spanish language skills during her free time. She also has a large artistic streak, which lets her choreograph and dance, as well as attend live music shows and performances. She feels fortunate about being able to carry out her artistry in school as well. (Hint: Her amazing sense of style). She believes her enthusiastic attitude about the work-environment at Bard and positive interactions with the faculty, staff, and students have been an incentive for her to dress up. As a tip, she highly recommends wearing hats for a morning time-crunch. We are glad that Dr. Hartoonian has acclimated to the new environment at BHSEC and we wish her the best of luck!

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