By Michael Lucibella
Michigan Technological University is starting two new physics degree programs aimed at increasing physics literacy and helping train new physics teachers, based in part on recommendations from an APS report.
Located in the northwest part of the state, Michigan Tech is starting up a new Bachelor of Arts degree in physics as well as a B.A. in physics with a concentration in secondary education. In the announcement, provost Max Seel, a physicist and APS member, said that they were following one of the recommendation’s from 2007’s Gender Equity report put out by APS in collaboration with the Department of Energy and the National Science Foundation.
“The motivation for offering a B.A. in physics to provide students with a strong foundation in physics but fewer course requirements,” said Seel. “It’s basically what I think APS said in its gender equity report; to create flexible tracks for physics majors… A B.A. basically offers more flexible pathways.”
Seel added that the new programs weren’t watering down the science taught in them, but were being offered to give students the opportunity to get a strong background in science, even if they don’t necessarily want to go into physics as a career. “This B.A. degree has nothing to do with less rigor, but to create more job opportunities.”
APS’s 2007 Gender Equity report focused on crafting ways to offset the gender imbalance in physics. In 2006, women received only 18 percent of physics PhDs awarded that year. One of the recommendations of the report was to “[m]ake it easier to enter a physics program after the first year to allow for late starters or those with lower initial preparation in mathematics.”
Seel said that he hoped the flexible options offered by the B.A. program would encourage more women to enroll in the physics program.
“I think anything that offers more flexibility in the physics degree plan opens more doors to more students,” said Monica Plisch, Assistant Director of Education and Diversity at APS. “The B.A. allows them to switch [majors] and still finish their degrees in four years.”
The secondary education track in the physics B.A. that will also be offered is to directly address the need for more high school physics teachers. Recent studies have shown that more than half of high school teachers teaching physics do not have a degree or minor in physics or physics education.
“We need more good teachers in high schools. Having a B.A. option should exactly help that too,” Seel said. “It will open up more flexible paths for people who are trying to get a good foundation in physics, a good background in physics, but don’t want to stay in the field of physics their whole lives.”
Michigan Tech announced its new physics programs on December 9th, along with two new masters programs and a new PhD program. The new degrees are pending approval from the academic affairs officers of the presidents’ council of the State Universities of Michigan, the state’s academic oversight board. Seel said he expected them to approve the new programs around January 20th.