Strategic Programs for Innovations in Undergraduate Physics at Two
Year Colleges (SPIN-UP/TYC)
Mary Beth Monroe
The American Association of Physics Teachers has received funding
from the NSF Advanced Technological Education Program for a new project
targeting physics programs at two year colleges (TYCs). Over the next
eighteen months, Strategic Programs for Innovations in Undergraduate
Physics at Two Year Colleges (SPIN-UP/TYC) will conduct ten site visits
and a nation-wide survey of all TYC physics programs. The site visit
reports and the report of the survey, prepared and administered by
the American Institute of Physics, will identify and describe TYC physics
programs that are shaping the future with initiatives that
- Encourage students to pursue degrees in physics or other Science,
Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) areas;
- Encourage women and minorities to study physics;
- Encourage students to pursue teacher preparation programs in physics
or related STEM areas;
- Successfully implement academic change at two year institutions.
Following a review of the site visit reports and AIP survey report,
the project leadership will prepare a major report describing identified
characteristics of outstanding TYC physics programs. Case studies of
two year colleges will be prepared by the project leadership and these
will be included in the report which will be disseminated to college
physics departments nation-wide. This AAPT project parallels the SPIN-UP
initiative of the National Task Force for Undergraduate Physics, funded
by the ExxonMobil Foundation, that is compiling a report based on twenty-three
site visits to successful physics departments of four year colleges
and universities and a nation-wide survey of undergraduate physics
departments at four year colleges and universities.
The Two Year College in the Twenty-First Century (TYC21), an AAPT
project from 1995-1999 also funded by the NSF, produced a national
network of more than 500 two year college physics faculty. James Palmer,
Illinois State University, in his "Notes from the Editor" in the TYC21
monograph, A Model for Reform, explains the need for a strengthened
two year college presence within the national community of college
physics teachers: "Community colleges enroll just under half (46%)
of all first-time college students in the United States. Among first-time
students at public institutions, 54% attend two year colleges. For
many Americans, especially for those who do not go on to become physicists,
it is the community college that provides a window to the world of
physics. And among those who teach at the college level, it is the
community college professorate that has the greatest collective experience
in introducing physics to the citizenry." Jay Norton, University of
Southern Mississippi, wrote in the "Project Summary" of the monograph, "The
educational diversity and opportunity in the two year colleges could
be (and should be) exploited to aid in retaining students in the sciences,
as well as prepare a science literate citizenry." The 1996 AIP Two
Year College Physics Study reported that 31% of TYC physics students
are women and that 15% of the students enrolled in physics at community
colleges are underrepresented minorities. However, opportunities to
increase these percentages are high since 58% of all two year college
students are females and minorities constitute about 23%.
During the initial phase of SPIN-UP/TYC, the principal investigators
(Tom O'Kuma, Lee College; Mary Beth Monroe, Southwest Texas Junior
College; and Warren Hein, AAPT Executive Office) defined a set of Project
Core Questions and Indicators of a Successful TYC Physics Program that
will serve as guidelines for the site visits and national survey. The
Core Questions, which appear below, reflect the diversity characteristic
of TYC college missions, student populations, and programs of study:
- What type of classroom environments and course structures are effective
in preparing two year college students for success
a. at the two year college?
b. in the workplace?
c. for self improvement?
- What institutional and faculty activities and practices are effective
in promoting change
a. in the classroom?
b. in the physics program?
- What institutional and faculty initiatives are effective in recruiting
a. STEM majors?
b. women and under representative populations?
c. future K-12 teachers, especially STEM teachers?
- What formal (articulation agreements, bridging program courses)
and informal (professional interactions) mechanisms are most effective
in insuring a seamless transition for students from the two year
a. to the four year institution?
b. to the workplace?
c. to both of these?
- What institutional and faculty initiatives are effective in establishing
a. with local schools (pre-college), private and public?
b. with civic clubs and/or youth organizations (e.g. Boy Scouts of
c. with the general public?
The ten Indicators, mapped to the Core Questions, address the areas
of (1) stable enrollment, (2) transfer success of students enrolled
in STEM courses to four year institutions and/or the workplace, (3)
morale among TYC physics faculty and students, (4) respect and collegiality
among TYC faculty and administration, (5) cooperation among STEM faculty
on the TYC campus and between institutions, (6) student diversity,
(7) professional development, (8) learning styles and needs of TYC
students, (9) contributions to the science preparation of future teachers,
and (10) issues relating to institutional transfer of students.
Two year college faculty, for the most part, have little experience
in conducting site visits to academic institutions for the purpose
of identifying exemplary practices in physics classrooms and programs.
In addition, little documentation exists concerning physics programs
at two year colleges and unfortunately most physics faculty at four
year colleges are not aware of the differences between their institutional
structures and missions and those of the community colleges. Therefore
in an effort to enhance the skills of the faculty who will conduct
the TYC site visits over the next year and to refine the site visit
tools prepared by the SPIN-UP/TYC project leadership, the project leaders
organized a Training and Planning Conference hosted by Trinity University
in San Antonio, Texas, July 25-27, 2002. Fifteen faculty from two year
colleges, eight faculty from four year colleges and one industrial
physicist attended the intense three day meeting.
Trial site visits and preparation of the site visit reports were the
focal activities for the training workshop. Prior to the visits, site
visit teams of three members each prepared sets of site visit protocol
questions addressing the SPIN-UP/TYC Core Questions and Indicators
of an Outstanding TYC Physics Program. Subsequently Jack Hehn, AIP
Education Director, engaged the teams in group dialog to contemplate
fictional, but typical, scenarios of TYC physics programs and to consider
how the information in the scenarios related to the Indicators.
Four teams visited the multi-person physics department (three or more
full time faculty) at San Antonio College and four teams visited Coastal
Bend College in Beeville, Texas, which has a typical TYC physics department
of two or less faculty. Each team then prepared a site visit report
and an oral presentation concerning one aspect of their visitation.
A panel consisting of Jack Hehn, Karen Johnston, Momentum Group, and
Bernard Khoury, AAPT Executive Officer, through responsive commentary
to the oral presentations, highlighted the nature of the information
collected during the site visits and the relevance and completeness
of the information as project data. During the concluding discussion,
participants identified additional information teams should be provided
with prior to actual site visits, additional college resource personnel
the visiting teams might want to interview and a list of seventeen
lessons learned while conducting the site visits. The project's external
evaluator, Karen Johnston, in her initial evaluation of the training
conference reported that the conference had successfully achieved its
goals and objectives. In addition she noted that the faculty who will
serve as site visitors "bring a wealth of talent, experience and credibility
to the important and delicate tasks of visiting and reporting on physics
programs at other institutions."
In late June, 2003, SPIN-UP/TYC will host a Writing and Planning Conference.
During this conference the project leadership and invited participants
will critically examine the case studies of TYC physics programs emanating
from the TYC site visit reports and the AIP report of the TYC survey
in anticipation of identifying essential elements of highly successful
TYC physics programs. The TYC case studies and a description of the
essential elements will be provided in the SPIN-UP/TYC report that
will be available January 2004.
Mary Beth Monroe is a Math and Physics Instructor at Southwest
Texas Junior College, Uvalde, TX 78801. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
She is Secretary of the AAPT.