Dr. Casey Durandet, a physics professor here at Paradise Valley Community College for more than 20 years, was recently awarded the 2021 Dale P. Parnell Distinguished Faculty Award, a national recognition for those making a difference in the classroom, given by the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC).
Dr. Durandet is just one of 23 faculty nationwide to earn this distinction this year. Her unparalleled passion for teaching and learning on a daily basis is evident to anyone who has attended her classes or observed her with her students. She uses her experiences to inspire and mentor many students, especially young women, interested in pursuing STEM careers, sharing her passion with anyone who will listen.
“It’s all about the students,” Durandet says modestly. “My students are a great motivator and when you love what you do, it’s easy. I’m a physicist first, and I share my excitement with my students. How can you convey the wonder of it all if you don’t live, eat, and drink it up?”
Durandet is committed to helping students develop critical thinking skills, conduct hands-on research, solve real world problems, and produce publishable research. It’s been a little tricky with COVID-19 restrictions and online learning, however, she brings that same level of enthusiasm to her live online classes.
In 2019, Durandet established an endowment scholarship, “Excellence in STEM”, designed to help PVCC students, primarily women, pursue STEM majors. Having put herself through college working two jobs, she knows first hand how difficult and costly earning a degree can be.
“Developing this scholarship is my way of giving back and helping ease the financial burden, so that these students may realize their potential and goals.They are our future - tomorrow’s leaders.”
The scholarship is named after her mentor Dr. Millard Lee. “If it wasn’t for (Lee), I may not be here. He is the one who believed in me and advocated to get me hired at PVCC all those years ago,” Durandet said, simply doing what she was taught and continuing to lead with commitment. “We are all advocates for our students. We only have their best interests at heart. Time and time again, my students show me the potential they have in making this world a better place.”
Additionally, Durandet heads back to Chicago each summer to continue her research in particle physics at the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory (Fermilab). She earned her bachelors, masters, and doctorate degrees from the University of Wisconsin - Madison and worked at Fermilab while completing her studies. Having maintained a relationship with the laboratory, PVCC students get the chance to work at the lab via summer internships. In fact, three PVCC Honors students were chosen to participate in the 2020 and 2021 internship programs. The 2020 internship was held virtually, but fingers crossed, the 2021 internship program will be in person.