If it weren’t for physics, we wouldn’t have cars, airplanes, computers, medical devices and untold other handy items. Even life itself depends on physics to help hearts pump blood, water move through plants or brains process electrical impulses.
Reaching out to the community and encouraging students to think about physics in daily life or even as a possible career is one reason why the California State University, Long Beach (CSULB) Society of Physics Students (SPS) was recently named a 2012 Outstanding Chapter of the organization’s Zone 18, which includes California, Nevada, Hawaii and the Philippines as well as universities in Singapore and China.
Other 2012 honorees were Cal Poly Pomona; Cal State Sacramento; and Southeast University in Nanjing, China; along with honorable mentions for Hartnell College in Salinas and San Diego State University.
SPS is an organization of the American Institute of Physics with more than 700 national and international chapters in 18 regions that are open to students in any major. It also maintains campus chapters of the Sigma Pi Sigma physics honor society.
CSULB’s chapter hadn’t been particularly active but began ramping up its activities, which led to its recognition, said CSULB SPS chair Julia Meinen. “We give members information about different internship opportunities and scholarships throughout the organization, but our big emphasis on this campus is outreach. We’ve been working to create a program for high schools and take them through a demonstration of what we do as physics majors so they’re not so afraid of physics or science in general. We’re not trying to recruit anybody; we’re just trying to tell them about what our life is like.”
Networking with other chapters also is important for current activities and future professional opportunities, but one of CSULB’s main efforts is its high school outreach. The CSULB Physics Department hosts Demo Days where area physics teachers gather to share teaching methods, so SPS volunteered to have members speak to their classes this spring, especially as Advanced Placement testing ends and high school students make final college selection decisions.
“We can go in there at that time and tell them, ‘This is what it’s going to be like. Ask us anything you want about college. We’re students and we can help you with that, too,’” Meinen said.
The SPS chapter is reaching out across CSULB as well, joining other College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics student organizations at the annual campus-wide Student Orientation, Advising and Registration (SOAR) event and degree majors fair.
“I think the main thing was that we increased our participation and activities a lot,” Meinen said. “We started with nothing really—not very many people. Physics majors classically don’t have a lot of free time but now we’re trying to integrate it more. We really tried to get out and participate in the events that the national organization recognizes,” including its zone meeting where students network and take part in professional development activities.
Meinen, a junior from Long Beach, originally planned to earn a master’s and a Ph.D., “but after actually being here and seeing all the different opportunities, I think personally I’ll end up in industry.” She enjoys traveling and hopes to find a position dealing with physics-related equipment at business and academic locations. “It would be great to use all my knowledge and to travel,” she said, but in the meantime, she and the other CSULB SPS members continue to advance their science.
“The SPS exists to help students transform themselves into contributing members of the professional community,” said CSULB Physics Professor Thomas Gredig, chapter advisor. “Coursework develops only one range of skills. Other skills needed to flourish professionally include effective communication and personal interactions, leadership experience, establishing a personal network of contacts, presenting scholarly work in professional meetings and journals, and outreach services to the campus and local communities. Locally, regionally, nationally and internationally, the SPS offers the opportunity for these important enrichments to the student’s experience.”
Chapters submit annual reports that are reviewed by zone councilors and associate zone councilors who make the final selections based on chapter involvement with SPS activities; outreach with K-12 schools and the public; taking part in community service, student recruitment and social events; and interacting with campus alumni.