James Rucker
Chemistry Instructor, Veritas Preparatory Academy, Phoenix, Arizona
James Rucker

Renaissance man

To understand James’s broad study interests, one needs only to look at his transcript. The Phoenix native graduated from Northwestern with majors in chemistry, math and humanities, along with a minor in physics. He had numerous roles in the theatre department—including scene crew, construction, costumes, props and lighting—and served as master electrician for four shows. With a love of theatre, music and philosophy, he found that Northwestern’s humanities major enabled him to learn anything and everything about anything and everything.

Why did you choose to major in humanities?

Honestly, I majored in humanities because I didn’t know what I wanted to major in. I love books, theatre, music, philosophy and pretty much everything in the category of humanities. I knew I wanted to do something within it, but I wasn’t sure what. The flexibility of the major was what attracted me to it. I wanted to do a lot of stuff, and the humanities major gave me the ability to do it all.

What were the benefits of majoring in humanities?

The humanities major is what you make of it. Because I was able to study multiple disciplines, I was able to focus on literature while also taking some time to learn about theatre, acting and even the basics of design. It gave me a lot of freedom within my chosen discipline and encouraged me to examine other disciplines and what they have to say about what it means to be human. In my opinion, it’s the most applicable major Northwestern offers.

What is an example of how you’ve applied your Northwestern education in the real world?

Prior to my teaching job, I assisted with health care research focused upon changes in reported causes of death during the COVID-19 pandemic. My primary role involved programming data analysis and visualizations—skills I was introduced to during the singular programming class I took at Northwestern. Although the code I used for this project was vastly different from the one I learned at NWC, the professor’s insistence that we be able to read and understand code fluently was useful for setting up the code effectively.

What did you most appreciate about Northwestern?

I love Northwestern’s faculty. They’re ... human. I know that seems like a weird word, but they act like humans. They are approachable, they talk to students who need help, they invite us to hang out, and they care about us on both an academic and a personal level. I recommended anime and video games to professors on more than a few occasions, and a political science professor recommended I listen to progressive rock music. Professors know what students need and are at NWC not just to pursue their own research, but to teach. And it shows.

As an educator yourself, what would you say you learned about teaching from Northwestern faculty?

The professors at NWC are my point of reference when teaching. Specifically, a few of the examples that Dr. Arnett (chemistry prof) used in my Northwestern general chemistry class find their way into my own chemistry classroom at Veritas. Northwestern faculty taught me to focus on the quality of the material and to encourage students to engage meaningfully.