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By Leah Poffenberger
For some physics students, particularly those who are from marginalized racial or ethnic groups, taking physics classes or joining physics departments can be a daunting and solitary experience. Students of color often don’t see themselves reflected in the culture of their physics departments, leading to feelings of isolation and an increase in the chance they might decide physics isn’t the field for them.
The APS National Mentoring Community (NMC) was formed to reverse the trend of African American, Hispanic American, and Native American students leaving their physics programs by matching students with mentors who can provide guidance, support, and resources. In an age of online school and meetings, the NMC has launched a number of virtual options to continue to support students and build mentor-mentee relationships, ranging from a brand new NMC Slack workspace to holding the annual NMC conference online.
The new NMC Slack workspace is designed as a hub for members of the NMC to connect and to access resources.
“NMC typically sends out e-mail prompts for mentor/mentee discussions—questions that mentors and mentees can talk about—and sends resources like [information about] scholarships or other APS-related information. We’re hoping to do these things via the new Slack workspace,” says Simone Hyater-Adams, Education and Diversity Programs Manager. “We’re also offering other new things through Slack, like lots of online meetup events, [so that] program participants have a space to interact and chat about their experiences at their institutions and in life.”
One vital type of virtual event the NMC plans to introduce will help students find mentors based on their interests, even if that mentor serves at a different institution. These events will revamp the matching process, which currently requires mentors and mentees to navigate a database in search of a possible match.
“A lot of people have joined the NMC but might not be matched with a mentor or mentee yet,” says Hyater-Adams. “In lieu of a tricky database, we can create events for mentors/mentees to meet face to face and chat about what types of experience each person has to help create a match. We’re making this somewhat like a speed-dating set up—folks will register, and we’ll create Zoom rooms organized by topics of interest.”
While the NMC encourages students to find a mentor at their institution, these events may help students find additional mentors who may be able to offer additional resources or perspectives. “Mentees often have more than one mentor, depending on interests the student might have,” says Hyater-Adams.
The annual NMC Conference, which is organized in partnership with the National Society for Black Physicists and the National Society for Hispanic Physicists, is also going online. On February 18 to 21, participants will gather virtually for an exciting weekend with resources for mentors and mentees alike, ranging from plenary talks on mentoring and research to career workshops and networking opportunities. Registration is currently open, as are submissions for Student Presentation Abstracts. In addition to scientific talks and poster presentations, students are also encouraged to submit ideas for sessions that will help create community connections.
“This year, the NMC Conference Program Committee is leaving open slots for student-organized community-building sessions,” says Hyater-Adams. “These could be things like a Virtual Game Night, a Hobby Chat, a Murder Mystery, or any other topic that you think will be beneficial for conference goers. Students will get support from the committee in organizing this.”
This year’s NMC conference will be partially funded by a donation from Kenton and Amy Brown. In November, they gifted the NMC with a $50,000 donation, largely to support one of the NMC’s hallmark resources, the NMC Bringing Emergency Aid to Mentees (BEAM) fund as well as an emergency fund for the APS Bridge Program and to support the 2021 NMC Conference. The BEAM fund provides small grants between $100 to $1500 to NMC mentees who are experiencing a sudden financial emergency in order to remove barriers or stress and help students continue their physics studies.
Joining the NMC is free for both mentors and mentees and does not require membership in APS. For more on the NMC or to join, visit the NMC page.
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Editor: David Voss
Staff Science Writer: Leah Poffenberger
Contributing Correspondents: Sophia Chen, Alaina G. Levine