Featuring Montrose Teachers: Ms. Thordarson

Erica Brown '22 and Kasey Corra '22

Ms Thordarson is well known throughout Montrose for her outrageous Spirit Week outfits, passion for physics and astronomy, and leadership in the performing arts. As a Montrose alum herself, many of these interests began back in high school, while others developed during her years at college. Ms Thordarson — known to her students as Ms T — was part of every performing arts extracurricular that she could join, including drama productions, handbells, and chorus. She participated in all four of the APs Montrose had to offer at the time: English Literature, English Language, AB Calculus, and Biology. Ms T despised chemistry, and though she enjoyed her science classes, she was surprisingly most drawn to humanities classes. “I thought I was going to be a humanities person, which is really funny. I liked stories and I liked thinking about how the world worked. I think, probably, my favorite class in high school was Metaphysics with Ms Rice because it got into the motivations of being human and, like, what is the world.”

As she reflected on her time as a Montrosian, Ms T commented that she felt more connected to her History and English teachers, which then influenced her exposure to and appreciation for those classes. “I was more drawn to History and English. I had really great humanities teachers.” The student-teacher relationship combined with positive exposure to these classes would eventually become an important part of Ms T’s teaching philosophy as an adult. 

After graduating from Montrose in 2012, Ms Thordarson moved to New York to study at Columbia University. On making her college decision, Ms T said she had no idea what she wanted to do. “I thought that having that strong core curriculum requirement would help me decide what I wanted to do. I figured that if I was forced to take classes in all of these areas, one of them would draw me to something,” she said. After powering through courses on Brazilian dance, Western literature, and African culture, Ms T took a science course that proved her strategy to be a good one. 

The class was called Stars, Galaxies, and Cosmology, and Ms T took it during her freshman year to fulfill her second core science requirement. “It was basically looking at the biggest things in the universe, and I just couldn’t get enough of it. I wanted to know more, so eventually I arrived at astrophysics as my major, and my plan worked!” Much to Ms T’s relief, astrophysics did not require any chemistry courses. She studied the subject at Columbia for three more years before graduating in 2016.

Generally, most STEM professions are not teeming with women and often struggle with gender-equal representation. At Columbia, however, Ms. T didn’t often feel enormously outnumbered. Columbia’s sister school, Barnard, was right across the street from her campus. There’s a good relationship between them, she explained, so Columbia students can take Barnard classes and vice versa. “I think, more than if I had gone to another school, there was a higher percentage of women in my classes because of this. There were absolutely some classes I took where it was me and, like, one other girl, so we were obviously in the minority,” she said. 

Ms T noticed that when the men in her classes largely outnumbered the women, it could be harder to have her voice heard. “Definitely, in the classes where there were more men, they tended to speak up more and they tended to, I guess, be a little bit more forceful in their talking and in their questions. In the classes where I had female professors, I feel like the professor may have been a little bit more aware of everyone in the class, whereas the male professors tended to be more responsive to the louder students — which just so happened to be the men.”

Many STEM college programs can often lack a faculty team that is committed to helping women succeed in that area. Women and men learn very differently, so it’s important that professors learn to help both genders flourish both inside and outside the classroom.“I was fortunate enough to have a lot of people around me who wanted to support women in STEM,” Ms Thordarson said. She continues to demonstrate that support for girls in STEM through her dedication to helping her own students learn in the way that works best for them and finding different ways to apply physics in the real world. 

Ms T talks to us in her classroom, which she covered nearly wall-to-wall with paper-mache planets, NASA posters, and string lights. She’s been a teacher here at Montrose for over five years; this year, Ms T teaches eighth and eleventh grade Physics. “I’m trying to get more students to enjoy science. Back in high school, I had fun in my science classes, but for some reason I didn’t think of it as a possibility going into college. Exposure is an important thing, and I’m trying to encourage my students to have fun with it so that they’ll contribute to a future with more women in STEM.”  

The students at Montrose are grateful for Ms T’s enthusiasm and encouragement on stage and in the classroom, and nearly everyone feels at home in her planetarium-themed classroom. We hope to see Ms Thordarson on the Montrose campus for many years to come — just not teaching chemistry. 


Kasey Corra ‘22 and Erica Brown ‘22, Co Assistant Editors-in-Chief