APS Education and Diversity Director's Corner

Ted Hodapp

The American Physical Society continues to lead powerful programs that are improving physics education at many levels. The Physics Teacher Education Coalition (PhysTEC) is inviting a new round of sites to augment our more than 30 funded sites, and we just reached a major milestone of 300 member institutions or more than a third of all US physics departments. In July, the project will release a comprehensive report on sustainability of PhysTEC programs, which documents the role of champions as well as institutional motivation and commitment in successfully sustained programs. Mark your calendar for the 2015 PhysTEC conference, which will be held 5-7 February 2015 in Seattle. In tandem with the conference, we are planning a workshop on Building Thriving Undergraduate Physics Programs (6-8 February). The last workshop held in 2012 was sold out; further information and registration will be posted on phystec.org as it becomes available.

The APS Bridge Program has also seen substantial increases with 36 underrepresented minority students applying to the program — all of whom were unable to gain acceptance into graduate programs or did not apply. We hope to see about half of these in graduate programs this fall — a significant chunk of the ~30 per year needed to close the achievement gap between minority and majority students in the US. The Bridge Program recently added Florida State and Cal State Long Beach as new sites, and will hold one more site selection this fall for two additional bridge sites. One of the remarkable lessons we have learned is that many students who apply through the program received poor advice about where (and possibly how) to apply to grad school. One site leader commented that they would have easily accepted “five or six” of our applicants directly into their PhD program, and will reserve slots in the future to accept more students recruited by the APS.

Women in Physics chart

The first year of hosting the APS Conferences for Undergraduate Women in Physics (CUWiP) has built on the successes of the previous conferences with now more than 1,000 women attending at eight regional sites this past January. We have learned a great deal from the assessments given at these conferences, and will inform leaders of the 2015 (and beyond) conferences of ways to not only hold great events, but also how to work to improve the retention of women in physics — something critically important now as the fraction of women earning a bachelor’s degree in physics has stagnated over the past decade (see figure). Selection of 2016 conference sites will occur this fall.

This past fall, the APS Executive Board approved the formation of a Joint Task Force for Undergraduate Physics Programs with the American Association of Physics Teachers (J-TUPP). This group will develop recommendations to help departments understand how the broader curriculum can be shaped to prepare students for 21st Century careers — almost all of which lie outside of academe. The committee has now been formed and expects to begin its deliberations this summer, with a report due in 2016.

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.