Colloquium: Revitalizing an undergraduate physics program

Gay Stewart, West Virginia University
Friday, October 20, 2017 - 3:00pm
PAS 220

In recent years, a number of states have enacted initiatives to close undergraduate departments with low graduation rates. In response, the American Association of Physics Teachers and the American Physical Society have presented workshops to help interested programs increase graduation rates. One program asked to present at these workshops was the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville. As a result of a number of initiatives, the University of Arkansas Physics Department has seen an increase from an average of 1 to 2 graduates per year in the mid-1990s to 27 graduates in 2012. This growth resulted from many changes: a revision of the introductory physics course sequence, a reworking of degree requirements to allow increased flexibility, an increased focus on in-department academic advising, and specific faculty hires to support the educational mission. With the selection of the department as a PhysTEC program in 2001, the number of physics students entering high school teaching also began to dramatically increase. Upon joining the West Virginia University physics department, we began to quantitatively investigate the effect of physics classes on the retention of STEM majors. In this talk we will discuss some of the findings that could be immediately relevant to any program working to increase its number of graduates, including teachers.