Building a Thriving Undergraduate Physics Program Workshop Sessions

Invited Talks

An Overview of the Engage to Excel Report   -   Talk

Sylvester James Gates, Jr., University of Maryland

8:00 PM - 9:00 PM on Sunday, Jun 10, 2012
Hilton Garden Inn

In February of 2012, the U.S. President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology released the "E2E report - Engage to Excel: Producing One Million Additional College Graduates with Degrees in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics." The report provides a strategy, based on a study of best practices, for improving STEM education during the first two years of college.  This presentation emphasizes the E2E strategies for building thriving undergraduate physics programs.

Undergraduate Physics: The National Perspective and Research on Attracting and Keeping Physics Majors

Carl E. Wieman, Stanford University

6:45 AM - 7:45 AM on Monday, Jun 11, 2012
American Center for Physics

Dr. Carl Wieman served as the Associate Director for Science at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy from September 2010 to June 2012.  Dr. Wieman previously divided his time between the University of British Columbia and the University of Colorado.  At each institution, he served as both the Director of Collaborative Science Education Initiatives aimed at achieving widespread improvement in undergraduate science education and as a Professor of Physics.

From 1984 through 2006, he was a Distinguished Professor of Physics and Presidential Teaching Scholar at the University of Colorado. While at the University of Colorado, he was a Fellow of JILA (a joint federal-university institute for interdisciplinary research in the physical sciences) and he served as the Chair of JILA from 1993-95.  Dr. Wieman has conducted extensive research in atomic and laser physics.  His research has been recognized with numerous awards including sharing the Nobel Prize in Physics in 2001 for the creation of a new form of matter known as "Bose-Einstein condensate".

Dr. Wieman has also worked extensively on research and innovations for improving science education; he was the founding Chair of the National Academy of Sciences Board on Science Education. He has received numerous awards, including the National Science Foundation's Distinguished Teaching Scholar Award (2001), the Carnegie Foundation's U.S. University Professor of the Year Award (2004), and the American Association of Physics Teachers' Oersted Medal (2007) for his work on science education.  Dr. Wieman received his B.S. in Physics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1973 and his Ph.D. from Stanford University in 1977.

From Near Extinction to Academic Excellence: The UW-La Crosse Physics Program   -   Case Study

Gubbi Sudhakaran, University of Wisconsin-La Crosse

9:00 AM - 9:45 AM on Monday, Jun 11, 2012
American Center for Physics

A Physics Department that was on the brink of extinction has been successfully resuscitated into a nationally recognized program at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse. The revitalization efforts included sweeping curricular reforms, aggressive recruitment and retention of students and faculty. The reforms include the introduction of new academic programs for the majors, new courses for non-majors, a Dual-Degree program in Physics and Engineering, and opportunities for undergraduate research. The success of the program in recruiting, retention, and career placement can be attributed to a combination of aggressive advising and flexible options designed to meet the needs and career goals of each student. The retention rate in the program is high due to one-on-one advising, involving students in undergraduate research at an early stage, and a very vibrant student society. The department uses several recruitment techniques which include contacting high school seniors in the region and outreach activities to attract students to the program. In order to sustain and enhance the quality of the program, the department has implemented comprehensive assessment of its programmatic goals on a regular basis. Due to these initiatives, the department has maintained its growth over the years and currently has 150 majors, and graduated 27 majors this academic year.

James Madison University   -   Case Study

Steve Whisnant, James Madison University

9:45 AM - 10:30 AM on Monday, Jun 11, 2012
American Center for Physics

James Madison University is a public, primarily undergraduate institution with a student enrollment of approximately 18,000. The Department of Physics and Astronomy now serves approximately 110 majors. There are 15 tenured/tenure-track and 6 non-tenure-track full-time faculty in the department. Graduation rates have grown from five or fewer/year to typically 15-20/year. All tenured/tenure-track faculty engage undergraduates in research; 14 are externally funded; 4 are women. Forty-eight students were engaged in research last year.

The growth of our department is due to a variety of reforms. The initiation of our multi-track BS and BA degree programs and a renewed focus on undergraduate research are paramount. These and other significant factors contributing to our success such as student recruiting, outreach, teaching and research integration/balance, promotion of a department culture, visibility on-and off-campus, and university support will be discussed.

Building on a Scholarship in Physics Education for Course and Program Transformation   -   Talk

Noah D. Finkelstein, University of Colorado-Boulder

11:45 AM - 12:30 PM on Monday, Jun 11, 2012
American Center for Physics

After decades of research into student learning, assessments, and curriculum design, physics is considered one of the leading fields engaged in discipline-based educational research (DBER).  Simultaneously, unprecedented national attention is now being paid to the outcomes of and needs for DBER.  Within physics, the sub-discipline of physics education research (PER) is now well-established and boasts robust lines of research that range from investigations of student learning of specific topics (e.g. how students understand propagation of light), to implementing and studying the nature of educational reforms and what makes them work or not work.  This interactive session will provide a brief overview of PER-based efforts at Colorado that have improved learning opportunities, increased student engagement, and recruited more students to teaching careers.  Through efforts such as the nationally emulated Learning Assistant program, we demonstrate improved student performance (as much as three times that of non-transformed classes), identify and begin to address the gender gap, and study the conditions to sustain these reforms.

Florida International University   -   Case Study

Laird H. Kramer, Florida International University

1:30 PM - 2:15 PM on Monday, Jun 11, 2012
American Center for Physics

Florida International University's  (FIU's) Department of Physics has transformed its undergraduate program over the past 11 years, leading to a 1500% increase in the number of intended and declared majors as well as a 800% increase in the number of graduates (comparing current three-year averages to the early 1990's). FIU's undergraduate enrollment grew 180% in the same period. To achieve these results, the department has taken a systematic approach to reforming the undergraduate experience, targeting introductory course transformations, revising and expanding the undergraduate degree programs (including adding a new teacher preparation program), adding critical courses, promoting strong advising within the department, engaging local high school teachers and their students, and establishing a major Physics Education Research Group. Further, FIU is a Minority-Serving Institution in South Florida, and thus serves as a unique laboratory to investigate how to best support success of historically underrepresented groups including women. The session will include an overview of FIU's transformation as well as provide insight into replicating the practices at other institutions.

Recruiting, Advising, Mentoring and Retention   -   Panel

Panel members: Vivian Incera, University of Texas at El Paso; Willie Rockward, Morehouse College; David Schaefer, Towson University; Gay Stewart, West Virginia University
Moderator: Arlene Modeste Knowles, American Physical Society

3:30 PM - 4:15 PM on Monday, Jun 11, 2012
American Center for Physics

Physics, while central to nearly every Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) degree, has many programs with very small enrollments. Consequently, physics departments across the country are faced with serious threats to their survival. Maintaining a vibrant physics program enables creative teaching methods for service courses taken by nearly all students in STEM who pursue science or non-science based careers, but also provides avenues of preparing the next generation of physicists. To increase enrollments in physics departments, several areas must be addressed to find feasible solutions. These solutions will ideally build a strong department infrastructure that can bring into action sustainable efforts that improve undergraduate physics programs, and advance both enrollment and quality of learning. The panelists in this session will discuss how to innovatively recruit students into your department, provide timely advising and expand on mentoring activities.

Physics Teacher Preparation Contributes More Than Additional Graduates   -   Talk

Ron Henderson, Middle Tennessee State University

8:30 AM - 10:00 AM on Tuesday, Jun 12, 2012
Hilton Garden Inn

Physics departments across the country are facing pressure to increase the number of graduates.  Some of the more successful efforts have involved curriculum and programming changes geared toward particular career paths.  Students want to know what they can do with a physics degree, and "anything you want" is not a sufficient answer.  In response, MTSU Physics and Astronomy recently added high school teaching to our list of concentrations.  There is a shortage of high school teachers with credentials in STEM areas in this country – especially in physics – but there are very few physics teachers being produced.  We have a situation where there is demand for a product that physics departments have the ability to supply, yet physics departments are not sure how to respond.  The APS and AAPT have taken a leadership role by establishing the Physics Teacher Education Coalition to provide resources to universities wishing to better prepare physics teachers.  At MTSU, we have found that curriculum and programming changes made to boost the number of physics teachers has resulted in a spill-over effect that benefits other areas in the department.