As Hannah Jimmerson of Boaz prepares assignments for her physics students, she recalls being in their shoes. She sees herself sitting in the classroom every time she walks in, and she remembers being full of some of the same questions, excitement and anxiety each time she reads their emails.
For Hannah, her time as a Snead State Community College Parson has come full circle.
Hannah attended Snead State as a Presidential Scholar from 2010-2012 and earned an Associate’s degree in Physics. She is now one of the College’s adjunct instructors, teaching physics.
“I love teaching. Seeing a lightbulb go off in a student’s head, hearing their excitement, and watching them teach others is the most rewarding thing to me. I would love to do this more in the future,” she said.
Hannah decided to attend Snead State because of the Presidential Scholarship she received, but she gained much more from the experience.
“I felt it would be a good opportunity to grow a little more before I attended a larger campus. I was proud to be a Presidential Scholar and President of our (Phi Theta Kappa). I have many fond memories of Snead. One of my favorites was a trip to Washington D.C. with the other Presidential Scholars. That was my first visit there. (History and Political Science Instructor) Grover Kitchens was a chaperone and really opened my eyes to the beauty and real history there, whether he knew it or not,” said Hannah.
Physics was not a field that originally interested Hannah. For as long as she can remember, she had a love for astronomy. But as she prepared to transfer from Snead, she decided to take a different route.
“I do not remember never knowing about (astronomy) and loving it. I wanted to be an astronomer in an observatory somewhere but realized there was nothing for that (field) in Alabama. So I decided to ‘back door’ my way by studying physics since I had to have that background for astronomy anyway.”
Hannah transferred to Auburn University for her Bachelor’s degree in physics with a minor in history and then went on to earn her Master’s degree. In earning her graduate degree, Hannah achieved a rare milestone.
“In graduate school, I was one of the few who passed my thesis defense without any revisions needing to be made to the paper, which is very, very rare. I was also proud that I was able to do it from start to end in eight months.”
The milestone only served to inspire her as she pursues her doctorate degree in atmospheric science through the University of Alabama in Huntsville.
“My doctoral work has really just started in the last few months. I am working to model the atmospheric turbulence parameter through the different layers of the atmosphere. We do not have a complete understanding of this at the moment, especially within the lowest 2,000 feet where turbulence is strongest. It is important to understand this for communication technologies of the future since turbulence can affect it. I am trying to model this phenomenon accurately, so that we can build technologies to overcome that turbulence or at least mitigate its effects.”
In addition to teaching physics and continuing her studies, Hannah stays busy with her job as a research scientist at UAH’s SMAP (Systems Management and Production) Center. The SMAP Center was established in 1988 to provide expertise, leadership, and support to the Army, NASA, other government agencies, and private sector organizations. The center has evolved into the largest organizational unit at UAH and the largest single employer of students at the University. She learned about the position through someone she knew with SMAP, who encouraged her to submit a resume.
“I met with the director of SMAP Center when I was about to graduate with my Master’s (degree). I had already been working for UAH as a teaching assistant for a year and a half. I started on a contract as a research scientist in 2018 and worked with laser research and atmospheric turbulence. In October 2019, I changed contracts working as a lead scientist on a quantum entanglement experiment that is going to the ISS under Dr. Travis Taylor (SMDC) and Dr. PJ Benfield (SMAP Center) and Dr. Matt Turner (SMAP Center). I also work on STEM outreaches to local schools to encourage STEM education through our SPARC lab.
“I absolutely love this job. I work with some of the most intelligent people I have ever had the pleasure of working with. I am one of only two physicists among a bunch of engineers, so I have learned a lot from them about the realities of technology. I often joke that my head is in the clouds, and they have to bring me back to earth every once in a while.
“I have the pleasure of molding young minds to the possibility of STEM fields. In school, many people, especially females, begin to think that they cannot be in the STEM fields for whatever reason. By going to these schools, I get to be a symbol of what hard work and dedication can do. I am rare because I am a female physicist. I show them that there are no barriers, and they can do whatever they want. I had a young girl genuinely ask if she could be a neurosurgeon. I got to tell her yes, because I got to be a physicist. I have never seen a brighter smile.”
Hannah said she’s glad to have started her journey at Snead State and offers advice to future Parsons who make the same choice.
“If I had the opportunity to be at Snead again, I would make sure that I would take other classes to expand my horizon earlier. I fully believe that students, if possible, should take a wide variety of classes. You will probably find something you love that you had no idea you even liked. I know I did.”
The lesson was one she learned after she transferred to Auburn. “This was during my last semester in Auburn. I had a rough year previously, and I wanted my last semester to be fun. So I took a really random assortment of classes. I had a horticulture class, took gardening, and actually knew what I was doing, which was hilarious to see the professor shocked and impressed that I knew what I was talking about. I learned how to judge livestock and was able to impress another class that I knew the difference between breeds. I loved learning new things that had nothing to do with physics and really enjoyed surprising my teachers with my knowledge.”
Hannah plans to complete her doctorate within five to seven years. Her biggest dream is to get a Nobel Prize in Physics, but her goal is to be a leading scientist in quantum communications and atmospheric turbulence modeling and simulation. Ultimately, she hopes others can view her journey and realize they can achieve their goals, whatever they may be.
“I want to be able to use my research to teach others and inspire them to reach out and make their dreams a reality.”