Building a Thriving Undergraduate Physics Program Invited Speakers

Noah D. Finkelstein, University of Colorado-Boulder

Noah Finkelstein received a Bachelor's degree in mathematics from Yale University and his PhD. for work in applied physics from Princeton University. He is currently a Professor of Physics at the University of Colorado Boulder and conducts research is in physics education. He serves as a director of the Physics Education Research (PER) group at Colorado, one of the largest research groups in physics education in the country. Finkelstein is also a co-PI and a Director of the Integrating STEM Education initiative (iSTEM), an NSF-i3 funded program to establish a national-scale Center for STEM Learning.

Finkelstein's research focuses on studying the conditions that support students' interest and ability in physics – developing models of context. These research projects range from the specifics of student learning particular concepts, to the departmental and institutional scales of sustainable educational transformation.  This research has resulted in nearly 100 publications. He is also a key figure in the Colorado Learning Assistant program that is designed to transform undergraduate education and recruit and prepare the next generation of STEM teachers.

Finkelstein is increasingly involved in policy, and in 2010, he testified before the US Congress on the state of STEM education at the undergraduate and graduate levels. Finkelstein has and continues to serve on many national boards in physics education, including:  inaugural member (2006) and vice-Chair (2008) of the Physics Education Research Leadership Organizing Council, and Chair (2011, 2012) of the Committee on Education of the American Physical Society, and Chair of the Amer. Association of Physics Teachers Public Policy Committee. He is a member of the Technical Advisory Board for the AAU's new Initiative for Improving Undergraduate STEM Education (2011), and very involved in APLU's efforts in the Science and Mathematics Teacher Imperative.

In 2007 he won the campus-wide teaching award; in 2009 he won the campus Diversity and Excellence award; in 2010 he won the campus Graduate Advising Award; in 2011, he won a campus Outreach Award and was elected Fellow of the American Physical Society; and in 2012 was named Presidential Teaching Scholar for the University of Colorado system.

Sylvester James Gates, Jr., University of Maryland

Sylvester James (Jim) Gates, Jr., is the John S. Toll Professor of Physics at the University of Maryland and director of its Center for String and Particle Theory. Known for his work on supersymmetry, supergravity, and superstring theory, Dr. Gates uses mathematical models to explore the elementary particles and fundamental forces of nature.

Dr. Gates completed both his undergraduate and graduate studies at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, earning two bachelor's degrees (in mathematics and physics) in 1973 and a Ph.D. in physics (focused on elementary particle physics and quantum field theory) in 1977. His doctoral thesis was the first thesis at MIT to deal with supersymmetry, a topic that has dominated theoretical physics since that time.

Before joining the faculty of the University of Maryland in 1984, Dr. Gates held postdoctoral appointments as a Harvard University Society of Fellows Junior Fellow and as a Research Fellow at the California Institute of Technology. He currently serves as a member of the Maryland State Board of Education and the U. S. President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology.

In 1984, working with M. T. Grisaru, M. Rocek, and W. Siegel, Dr. Gates co-authored Superspace, the first comprehensive book on the topic of supersymmetry. He has published more than two hundred research papers. Some of his research in physics has led to the creation of surprising new results in the field of mathematics, including complex manifolds, network theory, and representation theory.

He has been featured extensively in many science documentaries on physics, most notably The Elegant Universe in 2003. In 2006, he completed a DVD lecture series titled Superstring Theory: The DNA of Reality for The Teaching Company to make the complexities of unification theory comprehensible to laypeople. During the 2008 World Science Festival, Dr. Gates narrated a ballet, The Elegant Universe, with an on-line resource presentation of the art forms (called Adinkras) connected to his scientific research. The NOVA/PBS fall 2011 presentation of the science documentary The Fabric of the Cosmos prominently features Dr. Gates.

Beverly Karplus Hartline, University of the District of Columbia

Dr. Beverly Karplus Hartline is Associate Provost for Research, Dean of Graduate Studies, and from January 2011 through May 2012 Acting Dean of Engineering and Applied Sciences at the University of the District of Columbia. She is responsible for expanding the research efforts, grants, and graduate programs at the University, as well as for providing academic leadership for computer science, information technology, physics, and the civil, electrical, and mechanical engineering programs. Previously she has held teaching, research and leadership positions in universities, in Department of Energy laboratories, at NASA, and worked in policy at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. From 1985 through 1996 she was a member of the leadership team that built Jefferson Lab--a world-class superconducting accelerator for nuclear physics research located in Virginia. As Associate Director for Project Management she was responsible for ensuring completion of the project within cost, on schedule, and achieving the performance goals.

A passionate educator enthusiastic about attracting students to science and engineering, especially physics, she organized and led Jefferson Lab's first education/outreach programs--focused especially on broadening participation to include more women and minorities. She was a charter member of the International Working Group on Women in Physics of the International Union of Pure and Applied Physics (IUPAP), and has helped to organize its four conferences: Paris 2002, Rio de Janeiro 2005, Seoul 2008, and Stellenbosch 2011. She has served on the American Physical Society's Forum on Education Executive Committee (including as chairperson), Committee on the Status of Women in Physics (including as chairperson), Committee on Minorities in Physics, Physics Policy Committee, and Task Force on Ethics Education. For the American Association of Physics Teachers, she has been a member of the Committee on Professional Concerns; and she has served on the Public Affairs/Outreach Committee of the American Geophysical Union. Her Ph.D. is in geophysics from the University of Washington, and she has a bachelor's degree in chemistry and physics from Reed College.

Ron Henderson, Middle Tennessee State University

Dr. Ron Henderson is professor and chairman of the department of Physics and Astronomy at Middle Tennessee State University.  He obtained degrees from the University of Tennessee, Duke University, and the University of Virginia (Ph.D.) before joining MTSU in 1996.  Since becoming chairman in 2008, the department has created a concentration in Physics Teaching (2009), won a Robert Noyce Scholarship Grant (2009), was selected as a comprehensive PhysTEC site (2010), and the university became a UTeach program replicate (2010).  He is an outspoken advocate for inquiry-based pedagogy in both university and high school curricula, and strives to make a positive impact on the way science is taught in Tennessee.

Theodore Hodapp, American Physical Society

Dr. Theodore Hodapp is the Director of Education and Diversity for the American Physical Society (APS) in College Park, Maryland.  The American Physical Society is the largest professional society representing physicists in the United States, publishing the most significant international journals in physics, and facilitating programs to represent physicists and their interests.  The APS Department of Education and Diversity ( runs programs that advocate issues relevant to minorities and women, and in areas of education and careers.  Ted is also Principal Investigator of a large NSF and APS-funded national effort, the Physics Teacher Education Coalition (, which seeks to improve the quality and quantity of physics and physical science K-12 teachers.  

Before coming to the APS, Dr. Hodapp served as Program Director in the National Science Foundation's Division of Undergraduate Education, working with programs in curriculum development and implementation, teacher preparation, scholarships, and the National Science Digital Library (he is currently co-PI on the ComPADRE digital library project,, that collects physics education materials).  Prior to coming to the NSF, Ted was professor and chair of the Hamline University Physics Department in St. Paul, Minnesota.  He recently served as chair of the Physics and Astronomy Division of the Council on Undergraduate Research (, is a Fellow of the American Physical Society, and is currently serving on the National Research Council Committee on Undergraduate Physics Education Research and Implementation.  His research interests include laser cooling, optical modeling, and physics education research.

Vivian Incera, University of Texas at El Paso

Dr. Vivian Incera is professor and chairwoman of the Department of Physics at the University of Texas at El Paso.  She earned her Ph.D. at the P.N. Lebedev Physical Institute, in Moscow, Russia.  Dr. Incera is a well-known expert in the field of quantum field theories under extreme conditions. She has been PI of multiple research grants from DOE and NSF, including a Professional Opportunities for Women in Research and Education (POWRE) grant in 1999.  She became UTEP department chairwoman in 2009. Under her leadership, in the last three years, UTEP Physics Department has increased the undergraduate major enrollment in 500%, undergraduate research mentoring has been significantly revamped, and the percentage of faculty externally funded has increased from 50% to 82%.

Kate Kirby, American Physical Society

Kate Kirby of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics was elected as Executive Officer of the APS in 2009. Kirby oversees day-to-day operations at APS headquarters in College Park, MD.  

Kirby earned her bachelor's degree in chemistry and physics from Harvard/Radcliffe College in 1967 and her PhD from the University of Chicago in 1972. After a postdoctoral fellowship at the Harvard College Observatory (1972-73), she was appointed as Research Physicist at the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory and Lecturer in the Harvard University Department of Astronomy (1973-1986 and 2003-2009). She was also a Senior Research Fellow of the Harvard College Observatory. From 1988 to 2001, she served as an Associate Director at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, heading the Atomic and Molecular Physics Division. In 2001, she was appointed Director of the National Science Foundation-funded Harvard-Smithsonian Institute for Theoretical Atomic, Molecular and Optical Physics (ITAMP).

Her research interests lie in theoretical atomic and molecular physics, particularly the calculation of atomic and molecular processes important in astrophysics and atmospheric physics. In 1990, she was elected to Fellowship in the APS. Among her other activities: serving on the Department of Energy Basic Energy Sciences Advisory Committee (2003-2008) and as co-chair of the BESAC Subcommittee on Theory and Computation. She has been a member of the National Academy of Sciences/National Research Council Decadal Assessment Committee for Atomic, Molecular and Optical (AMO) Science (AMO2010), and Chair of the International Conference on Photonic, Electronic, and Atomic Collisions (2001-2003).

Arlene Modeste Knowles, American Physical Society

Arlene Modeste Knowles is the Career and Diversity Administrator at the American Physical Society.
She serves as the manager of the APS Scholarships for Minority Undergraduate Physics Majors, is in the Program Management Group of the APS Bridge Program, and manages most other diversity programs for the APS.  In her capacity as the career administrator at APS, Knowles has organized and moderated career panels and tutorials at APS meetings, managed the APS job fairs and online career center, and worked on other career specific programs.

Before coming to APS, Knowles received her Bachelor of Science degree in Human Development from Cornell University, on a pre-medical track.  While at APS, Knowles first focused on programs aimed at recruiting and retaining minorities in physics, and later began working on programs to build awareness of career opportunities for all members of the physics community.  Today, she works more exclusively on diversity initiatives, which include programs and activities that address the recruitment, retention, mentoring and careers of underrepresented groups.

Laird H. Kramer, Florida International University

Laird Kramer is an Associate Professor of Physics at Florida International University, a minority serving public research institution in Miami, FL. In 1996 he joined the faculty as a nuclear experimentalist and has in recent years turned to building a transformational education outreach model. Since 2003, he has led the Education Outreach component of CHEPREO, the Center for High Energy Physics Research and Education Outreach. CHEPREO uses its high-energy physics base as fertile ground for an extensive education and outreach effort based in diverse South Florida. CHEPREO-led efforts have transformed the undergraduate physics experience at FIU, creating more and better prepared majors by empowering students through the implementation modeling instruction-based studio physics courses, establishment of student-centric methodologies, and establishment of a high school/university research and learning community. These reforms have led to a rapidly growing PER group; the awarding of a PhysTEC Primary Partner Institute to FIU in 2007; the successful expansion of the LA Model into chemistry, earth sciences, and mathematics; and the recent award of a HHMI Science Education grant.

Willie Rockward, Morehouse College

Dr. Willie Rockward received a B.S. degree in Physics, cum laude, from Grambling State University. While completing a M.S. degree in Physics from State University of New York at Albany, he transferred into the doctoral program in the School of Physics at the Georgia Institute of Technology (Georgia Tech). After completing his doctoral studies at Georgia Tech, he served as a civilian Research Physicist for the Advanced Guidance Division of the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory located at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida. Currently, Dr. Rockward is an Associate Professor & the Chair of the Department of Physics and the Dual Degree Engineering Program at Morehouse College. Also, he serves as the Research Director of the Micro/Nano Optics Research & Engineering (MORE) Laboratory. His current research interests include crossed phase optics, micro/nano optics fabrication, optical quadrature microscopy, extreme ultraviolet lithography, terahertz imaging, and nanostructure characterization. He is a member of the American Association of Physics Teachers, the Society of Physics Students (National officer), the National Society of Black Physicists, the National Technical Association, the Optical Society of America and the Omega Psi Phi Fraternity. He also serves, voluntarily, as the Director of Science and the Coordinator of Special Projects for the Miller's Preparatory Academy for Boys.

David Schaefer, Towson University

Dr. David Schaefer received his B.S. in Physics from Towson State University in 1986. He received a Masters  Degree and Ph.D from Purdue University in 1993. After serving as an NRC Postdoctoral Fellow for one year at the Naval Research Laboratory, Dr. Schaefer was hired in the Department of Physics, Astronomy, and Geosciences at Towson University in 1995. He is currently a professor, having been awarded the University System of Maryland (USM) Elkins Professorship in 2006 and 2007 and USM Regents award for Research Collaboration in 2007. Dr. Schaefer has served as department chair since 2007. During this time the physics program has seen significant growth, both in numbers of undergraduate physics major, secondary education majors, and SCH produced. He has also led the development of a new Professional Masters Program in Applied Physics. Dr. Schaefer is a strong advocate of undergraduate research and has served as a Council of Undergraduate Research Councilor since 2007.

Gay Stewart, West Virginia University

Stewart received her Ph.D. in experimental high energy physics from UIUC in 1994. Her involvement with physics education reform began formally with her attendance at the Workshop Physics Conference at Dickinson College in 1993. Upon receiving her Ph.D., as a mother of two, she shifted her intellectual efforts purely to the condition of science education in the United States. In May, 1995 her work first gained NSF support through a DUE Course and Curriculum Development grant. She chaired her department's undergraduate affairs committee during a transitional time, which saw the average number of graduating majors in physics increase by a factor of five in four years.  

She has served on education-related committees (APS FEd Executive Committee [AAPT liaison, and chair line], APS Committee on Education, "Friend" of the AAPT Teacher Preparation Committee) and the APS council and Executive Board, the PhysTEC Programmatic Review Board, and as an AAPT/PTRA National Advisory Board member and Regional Coordinator for Arkansas. She served as chair of the College Board's (CB) Science Academic Advisory Committee, was jointly appointed by the CB and the NSF as co-chair of the Advanced Placement Physics Redesign commission, and is on the new AP Physics Curriculum Development and Assessment Committee. She was a member of the development committee for the College Board Science Standards for College Success, designed for grades 6-12. She is the teaching assistant mentor, and developed a preparation program based in part on the University of Minnesota FIPSE-supported project. This program grew into one of four sites in physics for the NSF/AAPT "Shaping the Preparation of Future Science Faculty," and is still active. These efforts played a central role in preparing Arkansas to join the AAPT/APS/AIP Physics Teacher Education Coalition.

She is co-PI of an NSF GK-12 project that places graduate students in middle school mathematics and science classrooms. The results of that project were so favorable that getting mathematics and science teachers the opportunity to work together is a major component of the $7.3M NSF-MSP project, of which she is PI, the College Ready in Mathematics and Physics Partnership. Through the NSF Noyce Scholarship program she has received $1,050,000 for support of student and master physics teachers. In 2009, she was named a fellow of the American Physical Society, for her contributions to physics teaching and physics teacher preparation. In 2010 she was elected vice president of the AAPT, of which she is now president elect.

Gubbi Sudhakaran, University of Wisconsin-La Crosse

Dr. Gubbi Sudhakaran is presently Professor and Chair of the Physics Department at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse (UW-L).  He earned his Ph.D. degree from the University of Idaho where he specialized in Far-Infrared Laser Stark Spectroscopy.  He has received several teaching awards including the Innovations in the Teaching of Physics in 2000, and Excellence in Teaching Physics at the University Level in 2006 from the Wisconsin Association of Physics Teachers (WAPT). He has received several research and educational grants from the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).

Dr. Sudhakaran has been the driving force in the revitalization of the Physics Program at UWL.  The UWL physics program is one of the fastest growing physics program in the nation with more than 150 majors and has received national recognition for introducing innovative curricula and programs. The UW-L Physics program was featured in Strategic Programs for Innovations in Undergraduate Physics (SPIN-UP) report by the National Task Force on Undergraduate Physics Education. The UW-L Physics program was honored with the UW System 2004 Regents Teaching Excellence Award.

In addition, Dr. Sudhakaran serves as a councilor to the Physics and Astronomy Division of the Council on Undergraduate Research (CUR) and has served on the American Physical Society (APS) National Committee on Education (COE). He served as the Conference Chair for the National Conference on Undergraduate Research (NCUR) hosted by the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse in April 2009 and is serving again as the Conference Chair for NCUR in April 2013.

Steve Whisnant, James Madison University

Steve Whisnant earned a BS degree in physics from Appalachian State University in 1975 (cum laude), a MS (1978) and PhD (1982) from Purdue University and held postdoctoral positions in nuclear physics at both North Carolina State University and the University of South Carolina. He was on the faculty at the University of South Carolina from 1991-2001. From 2001-present, he has served as the Head of Physics and Astronomy at James Madison University. He has pursued research in pion scattering at Los Alamos National Laboratory from 1983-1988 and photonuclear physics at Brookhaven National Laboratory as a member of the Laser-Electron Gamma Source (LEGS) collaboration from 1988-2006. He was a member of the CLAS collaboration at Jefferson Lab from 1990-2001. Since 2005 he has been a member of the High Intensity Gamma Source (HIGS) collaboration at Duke University and is currently a limited member of the CLAS collaboration. Since 1988 a central focus of his research has been photonuclear physics with polarized beams and targets. He played a central role in the initial development of the HDice target at Brookhaven and is now an active collaborator in experiments with this technology at JLab. Double polarization experiments under development at HIGS will measure proton and neutron polarizabilities.

Carl E. Wieman, Stanford University

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.

Quinton L. Williams, Jackson State University

Dr. Quinton L. Williams, professor of physics, has served as chair of the Department of Physics, Atmospheric Sciences and Geoscience and as Interim Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs and Student Life at Jackson State University.  As department chair, he led the establishment of the only degree program in Earth Systems Science at an HBCU.  The department is presently listed among the top highest producers of degrees in both fields of physics and the geosciences by African Americans in the country.  In the private sector, he has held positions which include Member of Technical Staff at Lucent Technologies – Bell Laboratories and Vice President of Engineering for a high tech start-up company in Atlanta, GA.  He is a past president of the National Society of Black Physicists, a former member of the Governing Board of the American Institute of Physics and the founding chair of the AIP Liaison Committee on Underrepresented Minorities in Physics.  He has served on the American Meteorological Society's Board of Women and Minorities, the American Geophysical Union's Committee on Education and Human Resources, and the Universities Corporation for Atmospheric Research's Academic Affiliates.  Dr. Williams holds a doctorate in physics from the Georgia Institute of Technology.