MURFREESBORO — MTSU’s Department of Physics and Astronomy has been recognized nationally for improving undergraduate physics education for its students.
MTSU’s department was one of three programs honored by the American Physical Society, a physics and science education advocacy organization.
MTSU received the honor, in part, for “consciously adopting a mission to provide exceptional classroom experiences, career-focused courses and pathways and intensive research opportunities to prepare students for targeted careers,” said Deanna Ratnikova, women and education programs administrator with the American Physical Society.
“It’s truly nice to receive national recognition,” said physics department chair Ron Henderson, who notes it relates to an on-campus award bestowed by MTSU President Sidney A. McPhee in August 2013 as part of the university’s Quest for Student Success initiative to improve student retention and boost graduation rates.
“That award (from the president) came in competition with other departments on campus,” Henderson said. “The American Physical Society award followed a nationwide search. Every physics department in the country was eligible.”
University Provost Brad Bartel notes that the physics department “has been devoted to undergraduate student success for many years.”
“They collectively changed their curriculum and gave the students more applied opportunities,” Bartel added. “The national recognition for their efforts is well deserved and their work has produced dozens of students highly qualified for graduate school and employment.”
In calling MTSU “among the most successful PhysTEC sites,” the American Physical Society recognized the university along with Indiana University Purdue University Fort Wayne and Rochester Institute of Technology.
Physics Teacher Education Coalition, or PhysTEC, helps universities develop their physics teacher education programs into national models.
MTSU earned the award and the society’s praise because “the department has over the past half-decade successfully refocused its degree programs and course offerings to emphasize the possibilities inherent in a wide range of career choices beyond graduate programs in physics, including teaching careers, and teaches the skills necessary to attain them, including freshman career seminars, required capstone research experiences and a senior-level career skills course.”
Henderson was presented the plaque during the April meeting of the American Physical Society in Baltimore, Maryland. The plaque bears the signatures of society President M.R. Beasley and CEO Kate P. Kirby.
Henderson and MTSU physics built a solid case in the entry submission with an 11-page document that featured individual student success and increases in retention and academic performance.
The physics department averages 13 graduates per year, with trends suggesting an increase in this number in the coming years.
“Our numbers of freshmen and sophomores have really shot up,” Henderson said, “and we’re expecting 40 to 50 new physics majors this fall. We’re one of the small departments on campus, but we’re experiencing some really good trends.”
“Our presence on campus is larger because many students take physics, not just physics majors,” Henderson said. Non-physics majors taking classes include students in aerospace, engineering technology and those in pre-health (medical and dental).
Physics and astronomy await the renovation of Wiser-Patten Science Hall by 2016. Henderson anticipates departmental space will increase from 50 to 75 percent.
The department is one of 11 in the College of Basic and Applied Sciences. For more information about the programs, visit http://www.mtsu.edu/programs/physics/, http://www.mtsu.edu/programs/astronomy/ or call 615-898-2130.