TILF Success Stories: Meet Evan Ott

Posted by Trudy Richards on 05/07/2014


Evan Ott is still an undergrad, but has already developed and taught a Physics course and written the corresponding textbook.

Designing a college course and writing your own textbook are not easy ideas to execute. TILF Scholar Evan Ott says he wouldn’t have had the audacity to even think of doing either without having been involved in UIL in high school.

Evan began participating in UIL as freshman, dabbling in Science, Math, Current Issues & Events, but always returning to his home base: UIL Computer Science. Evan says he owes much success to coach Glen Martin, who teaches Computer Science at the School for the Gifted and Talented in Dallas.

“He pushed our team to compete as often as possible and always worked to support student ideas on how the team could improve,” Evan said.

As president of the Computer Science club, Evan worked diligently to explain overarching computer science concepts to other students hoping to master the UIL Computer Science contest. Now, Evan is in his third-year at the University of Texas at Austin, double-majoring in Honors Computer Science and Honors Physics. Just like in high school, he is a driving force behind some of the developments shaping the learning environment of his peers.

“I don’t care about the recognition,” he said. “Scholarships are great, though!”

After learning that he had received a Moody Foundation scholarship through TILF, Evan says he felt like his hard work had paid off.

“Every dollar counts,” he said. “Since my family is one of those that's still recovering from the recession, I've had to pay my way through college with scholarships and jobs.”

Evan has been able to finance his education without taking on any student loans, something he says he’s grateful for everyday.

“That financial freedom lets me focus on school and extracurricular activities,” he said.

Since 2012, Evan has been the President of the Society of Physics Students at the University of Texas, spearheading initiatives to engage current and prospective students to a higher level of understanding. According to Distinguished Teaching Professor of Physics Greg Sitz, the past few years has seen steady but unprecedented growth in the UT Austin Physics department, from 200 students to about 500 students.

“Perhaps the biggest contributing factor to this growth that I can identify is the tremendous level of activity of the current students, and this has been led by Evan,” Sitz said. “From reviving the Departmental open house, to the huge activities of the Society of Physics Students, to organizing a two day campus visit for prospective physics majors in the spring, help sessions, pot lucks, the list goes on and it has all been driven by Evan.”

Dr. Sitz has seen first-hand how Evan’s enthusiasm can create great things and helped Evan get his student-led seminar off the ground and into registration as a course-for-credit.

“Response was overwhelming, with the room we were allocated filling completely during pre-registration,” Sitz said. “This addressed a real need and was a great success. Evan deserves a great deal of credit for making this work.”

Evan recognized a need to introduce data analysis to Physics undergraduates early, so students would not have to struggle with such skills in the advanced labs. He basically had to craft the curriculum himself and created a textbook to follow the design of the course.

“The bulk of it, I did last semester just trying to find a topic I knew we were going need to talk about,” Evan said. “It would be more or less the topic of the week. I’d eventually sit down and spend a couple of hours trying to write.”

For Evan, the will to teach comes from the desire to learn.

“I love learning new things and have found more of a passion with physics in particular,” he said. “So we have an undergraduate lounge for physics. Not too many people use that room on a regular basis but I love going in there when I can because on any given day, they’ll be talking about some crazy complicated theory I’ve never heard about before, ”That’s part of what gets me going.”

Evan recognizes that his education makes him “really lucky,” and that he’s proud of his accomplishments because he finds joy in helping others succeed.

“Part of it is just this feeling of responsibility that ‘I need to do well and open as many doors for myself as I can so I can then open doors for other people,’” he said. “If people are learning and getting something more because of me, I call that a good day,” he said.

His next big project is to establish a Physics Honor Society at UT after stepping down as President of the Society of Physics Students. This summer, Evan plans to perform research at Sandia National Labs in Albuquerque.


Written by Jan Ross Piedad

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