Brandywine welcomes new physics instructor

John McCawley

John McCawley

Credit: Penn State

MEDIA, Pa. — John McCawley joined Penn State Brandywine as a part-time physics instructor in January. He received his bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from Lehigh University, a master of business administration degree from Villanova University and an additional master’s degree in finance from Drexel University. With previous experience as a director of energy acquisition at PECO, an electric and natural gas company serving southeastern Pennsylvania, McCawley said he enjoys working with Brandywine students and helping shape future physics and engineering professionals.

Brandywine: What courses are you currently teaching at Brandywine?

McCawley: I’m currently teaching two lab sections under the instruction of Timothy Lawlor, professor of physics, for his "PHYS 211: General Physics: Mechanics" course.

Brandywine: What made you interested in teaching at Brandywine?

McCawley: I have experience in volunteering with the Boy Scouts, helping them achieve STEM-related merit badges, and I’ve also mentored people who worked for me or other people at my previous company. I consider teaching and mentoring to be fun, and it allows me to invest in the future of our country.

I chose to teach at Penn State Brandywine specifically after an interaction I had with leadership. I was at an Arts and Business Council awards event in Philadelphia, and I just so happened to sit with Chancellor Marilyn J. Wells without knowing who she was. She was with two other folks on her staff, and we were all chatting after the event. I told her I was retiring from PECO and looking to be a part-time professor, and she put me in contact with Jim Berkey, associate director of academic affairs. I met with him gave him my resume and got an interview with him and the faculty in the physics department, and the rest is history.

Brandywine: What is your background and experience?

McCawley: I spent my whole career with PECO, but my experience there varies. I graduated with a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from Lehigh University and started working as a testing engineer at the Limerick Generating Station in Pottstown. Then, I did other nuclear engineering projects on another plant PECO has on the Susquehanna River near the Maryland border. I did some corporate budgeting and strategy work for the fossil and hydro generation fleet as well.

Then, for the last 20 years, I ran a group called Energy Acquisition, which essentially bought all the electricity for PECO customers. Right now, that’s about two-thirds of 1.6 million customers. The group also ran the processes to allow 100 or so suppliers to sell electricity and gas to customers and put it on their PECO bill. I just retired from PECO in mid-October.

Brandywine: What has been one of your most challenging experiences as a professor? How did you overcome it?

McCawley: Before teaching, I had not been very familiar with the technical platforms we use, like Canvas. My son graduated college about five years ago, so he showed me how the platform works — he was actually still able to access his Canvas account and gave me a tour of it. I’ve been getting used to it over the course of the semester. It’s pretty well organized, and I didn’t have to set one up on my own because I piggybacked on what Professor Lawlor set up for the physics course.

Brandywine: What made you interested in pursuing a degree in electrical engineering?

McCawley: When I was growing up, I was really interested in how things work and enjoyed taking apart broken things to see what’s inside. I felt like it was a natural fit for me based on my abilities and interests in math and science.

Brandywine: As someone with an engineering background, what made you interested in teaching physics?

McCawley: When I was pursuing my electrical engineering degree, I found that physics played a huge role in the field. Physics has also always been one of the courses I enjoy learning and teaching; it’s sort of my niche.

Brandywine: What do you enjoy doing in your free time?

McCawley: I really enjoy traveling with my wife and children. We’ve been to several parts of the world over the years — my favorite destination so far was Tanzania, where we went on an African safari. I also enjoy the outdoors; I was a volunteer with the Boy Scouts, so I always enjoyed hiking, camping and being outside. I also enjoy cars, watches, flea markets, auctions and collecting old items. I also have a six-and-a-half-year-old corgi named Wellington who takes me for walks.

Brandywine: Anything else to add? Anything you would like people to know about you?

McCawley: I appreciate the welcome I’ve gotten since I started teaching in January. I really enjoy working with the students and seeing my dream of teaching come to fruition. Professor Lawlor has been really helpful in getting me oriented as well. The campus is beautiful as well.

I appreciate everyone’s enthusiasm here, and I also appreciate the effort students put into their work. They have a lot going on in their lives; they’re all trying to juggle college and their personal lives, whether they’re living on campus or commuting. I appreciate the effort they put into going to school and everything they go through.