The National Task Force on Undergraduate Physics found that thriving physics departments share the following characteristics:
Motivation and Action
- A widespread attitude among the faculty that the department has the primary responsibility for maintaining or improving the undergraduate program.
- Departments identified areas in need of change and initiated reform efforts in areas it identified as most in need of change.
- Sustained leadership with a focus on undergraduate physics within the department. Most faculty members in the department placed a high value on undergraduate education.
- A clearly articulated undergraduate mission and a vision of how it supports the institution’s mission. The vision is shared among the faculty and communicated to the students.
- A large fraction of the departmental faculty actively engaged in the undergraduate program.
- Administrative support from the dean/provost for the department’s undergraduate efforts.
Supportive, Encouraging and Challenging Environment
- Recruitment program either with high school students or with first-year students at the institution.
- A strong academic advising program for physics majors that actively reaches out to the students.
- Career mentoring: an active effort to make students (particularly beginning students) aware of the wide range of careers possible with a physics degree. For upper-level students the mentoring includes advice on how to apply for jobs, graduate schools, etc.
- Flexible majors’ program: Several options or tracks leading to the bachelor’s degree are available (and promoted).
- 3/2 dual-degree engineering programs, particularly at four-year colleges without engineering departments.
- Mentoring of new faculty, particularly for teaching.
- Active physics club or Society of Physics Students chapter.
- Student commons room or lounge.
- Opportunities for informal student/faculty interactions.
- Alumni relations. The department keeps in contact with alumni, keeps data on careers of alumni, etc.
Experimentation and Evaluation
- Special attention paid to the introductory physics courses. The “best” teachers among the faculty are assigned to those courses.
- Undergraduate research either during the summer or during the academic year.
- Physics education research and external funding. Most of the faculty are aware of the findings of physics education research and pedagogical innovations based on physics education research. Some departments had one or two faculty actively engaged in physics education research. Some faculty members have received external funding for education projects.
Each of these themes is further analyzed and illustrated with examples from site visits in Chapter 4 of the report.