Teacher by day, superhero by night: UT alumna connects children to science

Jordyn Zitman

At 3 p.m., Joy Lin leaves her day job teaching math at Crockett High School. Rather than going straight home, she switches gears to attend a writers meeting, work on screenplays or prepare for a late stand-up comedy performance. UT alumna Joy Lin, who graduated in 2005, came to the U.S. from Taiwan in middle school, spoke minimal English and was forced to repeat eighth grade. To compensate for the year she lost, Lin worked hard in high school to graduate early and enroll at UT by age 15.

In the 20 years since Lin was a freshman at UT, she earned three degrees while developing several careers simultaneously. Her teaching career, which began at a juvenile detention facility, helped Lin discover a new way to connect with students — by critiquing their favorite superhero movies. The success of this lesson plan has earned Lin national recognition in addition to an animated series with TED-Ed, gigs at comic cons and even a series of children’s books.

“I’m happy when I’m opening people’s eyes to science-ey stuff,” Lin said. “I was able to really get into the nitty-gritty of different superpowers and how they would work in the real world — or wouldn’t.”

Lin’s superhero lessons were nominated for a national TED-Ed contest called “Lessons Worth Sharing.” She was chosen as one of 18 finalists, but TED insisted they wanted to produce a series with her since six minutes would not be enough to capture the lesson.

“They said, ‘We love everything you do. We don’t just want to put it in one six-minute video. We’re going to hire a professional group to produce it,’” Lin said. “They even hired voice actor James Arnold Taylor, who does ‘Star Wars,’ so that was very cool.”

Lin’s series on the TED platform allows teachers to use the videos in their classrooms with discussion questions and opportunities to assign homework. The videos have acquired over one million views and counting.

Katherina Payne, assistant professor of curriculum and instruction in social studies education, said engaging students in new ways can help build relationships in the classroom and foster better learning.

“When you learn about the students and what they might be interested in, then you automatically have that many more ways to connect,” Payne said. “Students have to be able to trust you, to talk about things that might make them uncomfortable.”

Alex Siegle, Lin’s husband, inspires much of her stand-up material, engaging in comedic banter about their life, marriage and soon-to-be family. Siegle said Lin’s works are unique because they help adults understand science as well.

“(Lin) really knows how to find fun ways to have the material relate to everybody,” Siegle said. “I learned more from her TED comics and stand-up than I did in my entire high school career.”

Although Lin said she still loves doing stand-up and writing films, she had to scale back her activities after finding out she and her husband were expecting a baby boy.

Still searching for a medium through which she can reach the most people, Lin made her latest project a series of children’s books. The series, “Superpower Science,” addresses four powers in each book as well as the science, or lack thereof, behind them.

“I really see putting these books out there as like a public service,” Lin said. “I want to do my part in contributing to the science community. I didn’t do it for the money because the money was crappy.”

With 20 years of teaching, critiquing superheroes and creating content under her belt, Lin hopes her son will share her passions.

“I hope my kid will be able to see that science is everywhere,” Lin said. “I just hope he isn’t as obnoxious as me, yelling out inaccuracies in movie theaters.”