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Building Physics Community Connections

Building Physics Community Connections

Before winter break, I wanted to provide my physics students with an enriching community engagement opportunity that would holistically place their current studies in context of their future paths. Specifically, I wanted students to see how studying physics has lasting impacts on their futures.

Last month, Dr. Deepshikha Shukla from Rockford University and Dr. Mike Eads from Northern Illinois University graciously agreed to meet with students during lunch. Deepshikha’s background is in theoretical physics, and her current work mostly focuses on teaching physics, amongst other projects at RU. Mike does both particle physics work and a lot of work with students considering the teaching profession. Both professors fielded questions from students from everything about Mike’s work in particle physics working on an international project through Fermilab, to dealing with gender inequities to just great advice about succeeding in college. The single most important piece of advice both shared was that students should go into their classes with a goal of learning as much as possible, rather than the goal being a specific letter grade. Both Deepkshika and Mike also shared that being physicists allows them to approach any problem, regardless of context, with a systematic approach. They both shared that their physics training makes them unique critical problem solvers, certainly a skill we desire more and more from our students!

I invited a panel of former alumni who took both AP Physics 1 and AP Physics C with me as students. From the group of eight alumni, only one is pursuing graduate studies in physics while the others represented a large range of careers and study including engineers, consultants and pre-med students. The joy in the room was palpable when they arrived, both for myself and the alumni but also the current students who reconnected with old friends and met alumni who had been a few years ahead. Every alumni iterated how much of a strong foundation their experience in the gifted program provided them for college, and even how their classes at Auburn were often more enjoyable than their college counterparts. Students shared advice around selecting majors, how to study effectively and also how taking physics at Auburn made them capable of approaching complex problems in any content area. This made an impact on current students as one student shared, “The alumni panel changed my perspective on how physics becomes useful after high school…the panel made me realize was that a physics class isn’t necessarily only learning about physics, but also problem solving”.

After the large panel, alumni were divided into interest area groups for pre-med, physics and engineering, which allowed current students to get all of their burning questions answered. Many students shared that this was the highlight of the week. Among some of the topics, alumni shared their insider tips about the value of office hours and tips for getting into undergraduate research. Typically as students apply for college they try to envision their current selves at this idea of college. Through these experiences students had a chance to better see what physics and college can look like as future Auburn alumni.

Marianna Ruggerio

Marianna Ruggerio teaches physics and AP physics at Auburn High School and is an adjunct professor at Rockford University. She is an active member of the American Association of Physics Teachers and a teacher-leader with the University of Illinois Physics and Secondary Schools Partnership Program.