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Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI)

Commencement 2018 Profile: Cole Funk

Cole Funk

May 7, 2018

Commencement 2018 Profile: Cole Funk

A passion for teaching

For all his successes at Rensselaer—a double major in biochemistry and biophysics, with minors in chemistry and psychology thrown in, Dean’s List every semester, a Rensselaer Medal, and several successful game designs, all packed into three years—Cole Funk is especially gratified by one particular accomplishment: Helping other students.

“My most memorable experience has been tutoring my friends and peers in organic chemistry,” he says. “My students rely on me to help them understand the material, expectations of their professors, and how to approach difficult problems. In order to do this, I must understand them, their situation, their problems.”

For four semesters he mentored students in organic chemistry classes and labs. And for three semesters, Funk tutored his favorite subject through the Advising and Learning Assistance Center. These responsibilities often found him working after class, late at night and on weekends, as he balanced his own significant course load. But helping students learn, Funk came to see, was more than a rewarding extracurricular activity or good way to earn money. It was an important part of his own education. By senior year, Funk realized that he wanted to teach.

“It isn’t so much the material I’m teaching but rather the reward of teaching itself I really like,” says Funk, who is interviewing with high schools to teach chemistry, biology, math, or physics. “I’ve gotten great experience testing out different techniques.”

A native of Mesa, Arizona, he was always a strong math and science student. Funk was drawn to Rensselaer because it offers such a broad range of disciplines. And since he had so many AP credits, he skipped most first-year classes and dove into more rigorous courses in organic chemistry and biophysics. He was pleased also to pursue psychology in the School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences. 

Funk tackled up to 24 credits at once. He was proud of this, and for creating several functional programs and games in Python, Visual Basic, and C#. But there were times when he also struggled to navigate all the expectations, from simply getting his laundry done all the way to pursuing a career path.

“This, mixed with the realization that you need to figure out every professor's teaching and testing styles while keeping on top of the material in order to get good grades, can be daunting,” he admits.

Funk saw that Rensselaer offered assistance in many forms. Professors and graduate teaching assistants had generous office hours. He learned he that he could use the test bank to get ahead and that students can confidentially request extra time on exams. He relied on the Center for Career and Professional Development to help him develop a resume and prepare for job interviews.

Now he leaves Rensselaer prepared academically, with better organizational skills and a good idea what other students experience. And, a good start as an educator.

“I am grateful for the wide variety of classes and being able to share those interests with future students in hopes that they will find their passion,” Funk notes.