Award for Improving Undergraduate Physics Education Awardees
Application Deadline: July 15
Nominating a Physics Program
2013Colorado School of Mines
The Department of Physics at The Colorado School of Mines has substantially transformed itself over the last decade, using an iterative model of innovation, implementation, and assessment. Their dedicated and aggressive approach has transformed all levels of their curriculum, from introductory classes for non-majors to senior level courses and seminars. Over the past decade the number of majors has more than doubled, from 114 students in 2000-2001 to 258 students in 2011-2012, significantly outpacing the overall growth of the student body. They are now one of the top five largest physics departments in the country, graduating on average 56 seniors per year since 2006.
Kettering University’s Physics Department is a distinctive program, with co-op experiences integrated to promote graduates being placed in industry. Kettering has demonstrated excellence by tripling the number of majors over the last ten years as well as by focusing on the assessment of particular elements of the program including course outcomes and evaluation of co-op experiences.
Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)
MIT has engineered an impressive transformation of its undergraduate physics curriculum, which currently produces the largest number of bachelor's degrees in physics annually of any university in the United States. The Department has more than doubled the number of majors since 2001, accompanied by a focus on diversity that has resulted in a department in which more than a third of graduating seniors are women. These changes have been accomplished through a focused commitment to creating a program that is flexible, welcoming and respectful of all students, with advising, mentoring and other programs to support students at all levels. The Department has been a consistent innovator in physics education with an emphasis on quality, including the innovative Technology Enabled Active Learning (TEAL) approach to teaching introductory physics to most MIT freshmen. This dual focus on outstanding educational practices and a student-focused departmental culture has resulted in an exceptionally strong undergraduate physics program.
University of Wisconsin at LaCrosse
COE recognizes the University of Wisconsin at LaCrosse Physics Department for revitalizing their physics program through widespread student-centric reforms. These reforms have included implementing a revised curriculum at all levels using physics-education research supported methods, increasing undergraduate participation in research, creating a supportive department community through seminars and student organizations, and developing a thriving physics teacher training program. The results of these efforts have been a significant increase in the number of majors, bringing this undergraduate-only program from the brink of elimination to one of the largest physics departments in Wisconsin, national recognition of many of the department programs, and quantifiable success of the students graduating from the program.
The Compass Project at UC Berkeley
The Compass Project, founded in 2006, is dedicated to building a collaborative, diverse and creative community of undergraduate students that will enrich their experience in the physical sciences. Graduate student volunteers coordinate the program and foster an inclusive environment so that incoming undergraduates from groups traditionally underrepresented in the physical sciences may acquire a solid sense of direction. The centerpiece of the Compass Project is the Compass Summer Program, which takes place during the two weeks before the start of the fall semester. The residential, all-expenses-paid program brings together approximately 15 incoming freshmen and six graduate student instructors for intensive research on a physical question – recent examples include “How do wind turbines work?” and “What is the nature of time?” Students work in small groups to design experiments that help answer the question posed. Rather than listening to lectures, students are urged to work collaboratively and learn through discovery. After the summer program, Compass students participate in a semester-long course in problem solving and model building, in which they continue to take advantage of the community they have built in order to help each other become better scientists. Additionally, undergraduates are paired with a graduate student mentor who helps guide them through the rest of their undergraduate experience. Other programs Compass sponsors include a lecture series, office hours for homework help, and community dinners.
Mount Holyoke College
The Mount Holyoke Physics department is an active, friendly, reform-minded community of female undergraduates and dedicated faculty and staff. The department averages seven majors per year, more than three times the national median for bachelors granting institutions. All of the physics majors are women, many of whom stay in STEM fields, whether they continue on to a Ph.D., teach at the K-12 level, or work in industry. The department stands out in its commitment to outstanding teaching, both in the classroom and in our undergraduate research. They have three active experimental labs on campus, and a theory group, in which undergraduate physics students engage in cutting edge, publishable research. Both students and faculty have won awards for their research endeavors, including Goldwater Scholarships, Fulbrights, Gates, Churchill, an Apker Award, NSF and DOE Graduate Fellowships, and two NSF CAREER awards for outstanding research and education by individual faculty. The department is deeply committed to classroom teaching, using best practices as determined by physics education research, including peer instruction with concept questions and preclass questions, while also developing new general interest science courses. The department has seen substantial change over the past ten years, with the completion of a new science center in 2002 that provides a student lounge, in constant use, next to the faculty offices. They hired two new faculty members in 2006 and 2010 and have made significant changes to curriculum in order to focus on emerging fields and support student career interests. Mount Holyoke's Physics Department is in a period of growth, with a 38% jump in introductory enrollments and increasing numbers of majors. They are building on their strengths and developing new ones.
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
All members of the Department of Physics at the University of Illinois, from the greenest assistant professor or teaching assistant to the most distinguished senior researcher, demonstrate their commitment to undergraduate education every day. In the last 15 years, they have collectively and completely recreated the way undergraduate physics courses are taught--to almost 9000 students per year--by rethinking curricular content, redesigning labs, remodeling classrooms, incorporating innovative educational technologies, and drawing on the results of their nationally recognizes physics education research group. The renaissance in undergraduate teaching begun in 1995 at Illinois has involved more than 90 percent of the faculty and has transformed both the introductory classes taken by science and engineering students and the advanced classes and laboratories taken by physics majors. An innovative, integrated model for physics teaching has been created--one that develops higher-order thinking competencies, promotes collaborative problem-solving, and improves communication and leadership skills. The Illinois approach benefits not only the undergraduate students who take their classes, but it also gives their graduate teaching assistants excellent training in best practices.
Utah State University
Twelve years ago, undergraduate physics at Utah State University (USU) was almost solely a service program for majors of other disciplines. At that time, adapting best practices the department uncovered at other universities to their own circumstances, they began to systematically change their program. Among the important changes were: hiring a full-time, professional adviser; developing new degree options to give students greater career flexibility; instituting undergraduate research as a degree requirement for all physics students; reinvigorating a long-inactive Society of Physics Students (SPS) Chapter; and initiating a “scholarship boot camp” to prepare high performing students to compete for national awards. Since introducing these changes the number of physics majors at USU has increased by five-fold. In their exit interviews, seniors invariably laud the department adviser and the advisement they received from her. The department now averages over twenty different undergraduate research presenters per year at national and regional meetings. Their SPS chapter maintains a high profile educational outreach program, and receives continuing praise for its activities from the National Office. And over the past decade physics students have won Rhodes and Fulbright Scholarships, have received multiple NSF Graduate Research Fellowships, and have averaged about two national Goldwater Scholarships per year.