Physics Department Creates Engaged Students and Alums
By Meghan Dusek
The UWRF physics department has the distinction of being within the top 10 percent of the nation in terms of physics degrees awarded, according to James Madsen, chair of the department.
In addition, the UWRF chapter of the Society of Physics Students (SPS) was recently award its eighth Outstanding SPS Chapter award in nine years and also lept into second place as the second largest chapter in the country. Combine that with the fact that the department has several notable alumni, including retired NASA astronaut Daniel Brandenstein, and student research and study opportunities in places like Antarctica, and it creates a winning formula.
Madsen and Professor Earl Blodgett see a link between the activities of the department and SPS and the success of the program.
The American Institute of Physics recently contacted Madsen as part of its research into how thriving physics departments operate, and asked for an account of the factors that go into UWRF's highly effective program. The report to AIP cites the sense of community among physics majors as highly indicative to their success in the program.
"We have a lot of anecdotal evidence from alumni that this was a crucial element in their persistence in the program," says Madsen. "We have seen an increase in the activity of our chapter of SPS. This contributes to the esprit de corps of the students, increases the visibility of the program on and off campus, and even contributes to recruitment efforts via outreach visits the SPS make to local schools. This growth in activity of SPS does coincide with our increase in physics majors."
The SPS group regularly visits area schools, hosts a Science Day for high school students, attends national physics conferences and promotes an interest in physics, research contributions, and recruit physics majors. "An active SPS chapter helps build a sense of community, and that helps the whole program to grow and succeed," says Blodgett.
Currently at 41 members, SPS is not limited to just physics members. "Some are alumni, quite a few are not physics majors. They just are interested in physics, and enjoy some of the activities that we partake in," says Blodgett. "This helps maintain a sense of community, which I firmly believe is crucial to the growth and success of a challenging program like physics."
Current members include:
Thursday, 22-Apr-2010 16:08:00 Central Daylight Time
University of Wisconsin - River Falls