About Sandra Penny

Sandra Penny is well aware of the particular challenge she faces as a teacher: “Physics is one of those sciences most people think they don’t like, but I know there’s no other subject area that’s more observable in our everyday world.”

So, an assistant professor in Physics at Russell Sage College, Sandra creatively and steadfastly takes on the challenge. 

She has what she calls her “party tricks,” like putting things in the microwave and having students consider the startling consequences.

But mostly Sandra gets the job done the old fashioned way – she gives her students lots of individual attention. She encourages. She waits patiently and confidently for that day when a student’s interest gets ignited.

“I almost never finish a semester without having a one-on one relationship with all my students,” she says. “It’s my job to bring out the best in each of them.”

She certainly leads by example.

This past spring when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Sandra had 16 students in her physics lab. So, she went into the lab and put together 16 lab kits and mailed them all out to her students, so they could do the “real, hands-on work.”

In addition to teaching General Physics, Sandra teaches Energy and the Environment, which allows her to share the passion she has for atmospheric science and its relationship to climate and climate change.

But no matter what type of class she’s teaching Sandra has a singular objective. “What inspires me,” she says, “are the students who are transformed. I see them grow intellectually and emotionally when I challenge them to work hard and become accountable.”

It would seem that her formula works.

“Every year I have students who begin with the question: How am I ever going to do this? And every year these students grow so much and work so hard. Seeing that is so meaningful.”

And, she’ll consider further, if she’s really done her job, “I change the way they think about the world.”


Recent Courses Taught

General Physics (PHY-101/102, PHY-101L/102L)
Energy and the Environment (SCI-105)

Research Interests

Mid-latitude circulation storm tracks: jet streams, eddy-mean flow interactions, upstream seeding
Effective teaching methods & activity-based learning

Selected Publications

Smyth R, Penny S, Gervich C, Sethi G, Leibensperger E, Batur P, Regulating Carbon Emissions (2017). Peer-reviewed module developed for undergraduate courses.

Penny S. M., Battisti D. S., and Roe G.H. (2013), Examining Mechanisms of Variability within the Pacific Storm Track: Upstream Seeding and Jet-Core Strength, J. Climate.

Educational Background

Ph.D., Atmospheric Sciences