APS News

Monica Plisch, Catherine Mader Join APS Education Team

Monica Plisch, Assistant Director of Education
Photo by Ken Cole

Monica Plisch, Assistant Director of Education
Two physicists have recently joined the APS education department. Monica Plisch will be the first Assistant Director of Education. She will direct the Physics Teacher Education Coalition (PTEC), a network of universities devoted to improving physics teacher preparation, and lead efforts within PhysTEC, the APS/AAPT-led teacher preparation program.

In addition, a new consultant in the education department, Catherine Mader, will work on projects related to the APS/AAPT initiative to double the number of undergraduate physics majors. Plisch and Mader both started work at APS on September 4.

“As APS works on improving physics education at all levels, Monica and Cathy will enable us to have a far greater impact in many areas,” said Ted Hodapp, APS Director of Education.

Plisch earned her PhD in physics from Cornell University in 2001. She then spent a year teaching physics and math at Wells College in upstate New York. In 2002 she accepted a position at Cornell University, where she was the Director of Education Programs at the Center for Nanoscale Systems (CNS).

Plisch says she decided to work in science education and outreach because “I wanted to do something where I could make a difference.” She believes she can affect a lot of lives through improving science education.  

As part of her work at Cornell, Plisch developed a laboratory course in nanotechnology for freshmen. She also organized workshops and a summer institute for physics teachers. The workshops, held at Cornell as well as several satellite locations, provided a chance for teachers to learn about contemporary physics, especially nanoscience, and receive training on new hands-on activities for their classrooms. The activities were developed by teams of scientists and teachers, and equipment for implementing activities was available through the CNS lending library. The workshops also served as an opportunity to build relationships between teachers and scientists.  

Now at APS, Plisch is excited to be working with PhysTEC and PTEC because she believes there is a great need for more well-qualified physics teachers, and PhysTEC “is an exciting project that is addressing these issues on a national scale,” she said.

Among Plisch’s first tasks at APS are organizing the next PTEC conference and a workshop on undergraduate Learning Assistants. In addition, PhysTEC has recently phased in a new cadre of institutions with NSF and APS 21st Century campaign funds. Some of the original PhysTEC-funded institutions are now continuing on their own, sustaining many of the reforms they have put in place. These institutions are serving as models for institutions throughout the country. PhysTEC will be seeking a second round of funding from NSF to continue its mission of working to increasing the number of highly qualified physics teachers by developing strong teacher education programs. They also are working on developing further ways to assess and describe the successes of the project.

Catherine Mader, the new Education Projects Consultant, comes to APS on sabbatical for one year from Hope College in Western Michigan, where she has been on the physics department faculty for 14 years. At APS, Mader will be working on several projects aimed at increasing the number of undergraduate physics majors, including developing a new careers website for undergraduates and planning an undergraduate research session at the April Meeting that high school students would also be invited to attend. In addition, she will develop plans for a late-starter physics major, which would be aimed at accommodating students who need more flexibility, such as those who transfer from a 2-year college, or those who discover their interest in physics after freshman year.