APS Award for Improving Undergraduate Physics Education

College Park, MD – The Committee on Education (COE) of the American Physical Society announces the recipients of the 2012 Award for Improving Undergraduate Physics Education. The award recognizes physics departments and/or undergraduate-serving programs in physics that support best practices in education at the undergraduate level.

Colorado 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
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.

Disclaimer–The articles and opinion pieces found in this issue of the APS Forum on Education Newsletter are not peer refereed and represent solely the views of the authors and not necessarily the views of the APS.