By Sasha Nyary
The Society of Physics Students (SPS) at Mount Holyoke College has won outstanding chapter for the 2014–2015 academic year.
The honor is given to chapters with particular depth and breadth of SPS activities, Daniel Golombek, the SPS acting director, wrote to the group. Winners are chosen by national SPS members and office staff.
“Our SPS students had a wonderfully productive year,” said Kerstin Nordstrom, a physics professor and the chapter advisor. “They did outreach, invited speakers, held lab tours, presented career panels, hosted social events—you name it, they did it.”
The chapter also won the 2015 Future Faces of Physics award from the national SPS organization. The project was a photo campaign titled Redefining Physics: Adding Women and Minorities to the Equation, and featured the students holding whiteboards with a personal statement about physics that served to highlight not only the diverse population of physics majors but also the variety of reasons for loving physics.
The credit for the chapter’s success goes to the hard work of its members, said Husna Anwar ’15, who served as president her senior year.
“Many of those involved were seniors writing theses,” Anwar said. “We also got tremendous support from our incredible faculty and department. The physics department at Mount Holyoke is truly a rare and special community.”
The chapter’s primary purpose was to bring the physics community together to work on common goals such as job searches, internships, and career choices. The students worked to promote women in physics as well as reach out to the greater campus and the Five College community.
They reached their goals through events that ranged from stargazing and movies to lab tours and lectures. The most successful, a standing-room-only lecture by retired physics professor and textbook author David J. Griffiths, was open to faculty and students from across the Five Colleges. Many students brought their textbooks for him to sign.
Many of the group’s efforts focused on professional development, such as creating a searchable database of past internship experiences and application processes, and writing workshops for cover letters and resumes, said Anwar.
“We offered physics GRE prep classes with wonderful professors who volunteered their free evenings,” Anwar said. “Students presented research at poster sessions and national conferences. We were able to engage students and really get them excited about physics—and have a great time doing it. And the current board is also very active.”
The students on the SPS board have continued their success as young alumnae in part by developing a physics alumnae network. All have landed jobs in the field. Anwar works as a project engineer with an energy management startup in New York City called Bright Power. Vice president Pheona Williams ’15 works as an associate data analyst with OmniClaim, a health care cost-containment auditing company in Woburn, Massachusetts. Board secretary Allie Lau ’15 researches physics education in a doctoral program at the University of Colorado Boulder.
Part of the significance of this award is that the students involved were all women, Nordstrom said, noting that nationwide, 80 percent of physics majors are male. Mount Holyoke has a high number of physics majors, including 13 in the class of 2015. That’s about twice the average for all colleges that offer up to a bachelor’s degree in physics. The other schools that won outstanding chapter awards were largely universities including Cornell and Princeton universities, and the University of California, Berkeley.
“The students inspire me,” said Nordstrom, who started at Mount Holyoke in fall 2014. “They even made me a cake to welcome me to the department. I am so amazed by them and proud of all they accomplished.”
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