OSU Physics receives national award for undergraduate education

The American Physical Society (APS) has chosen the OSU Department of Physics as one of three top universities for improving undergraduate physics education in 2018! The APS Award for Improving Undergraduate Physics Education recognizes excellence in undergraduate physics education to support best practices in education at the undergraduate level. Past awardees have shown significant impact on undergraduate physics students.

Award criteria include:

  • Engages in undergraduate educational transformation
  • Improves student understanding of physics
  • Increases the number of physics majors
  • Improves retention by reducing the DFW (Drop, Fail, or Withdraw) rate
  • Increases the number of underrepresented minorities and women in physics
  • Supports physics major choosing K-12 teaching careers
  • Prepares students for careers
  • Improves undergraduate research opportunities
  • Engages in other recognized best practices

For 21 years, OSU’s Department of Physics has been a national model for its holistic approach to improving the educational experience for undergraduates, from the nationally recognized, upper division curriculum redesign—Paradigms in Physics, through lower‐division reform, thesis research experiences for all majors, and attention to co‐curricular community‐building.

“For more than 20 years, OSU Physics has consistently nurtured a culture and identity of student success in its undergraduate education, and this award honors that history,” said Roy Haggerty, dean of the College of Science at OSU.

OSU Physics is dedicated to building a strong cohort group of students, empowering them with a solid skill set and preparing them for a wide range of careers. They also create and freely share their cutting‐edge curricular materials based on their own physics education research with the broader community.

In 1996, the flagship Paradigms in Physics Project at Oregon State reformed the entire upper-division curriculum for physics majors. This involved rearranging content to better reflect the way professional physicists think about the field and also infusion a number of evidence-based interactive pedagogies that are known to engage students more effectively in a discipline. As a result, the curriculum has become a local and national model for curricular reform.

Today the curriculum includes a variety of active-engagement teaching strategies: interactive small-group problem-solving, project-based classes, kinesthetic activities, technology-based visualization activities, and more. The work to improve the curriculum continues as an organic process. Most recently, faculty designed new hands-on activities in thermodynamics and electromagnetism based on the team’s NSF-funded research into student difficulties with partial derivatives.

This spring instructor KC Walsh’s work was highlighted for breaking the mold of conventional classroom dynamics by using online resources paired with data-driven research to increase student success in introductory physics. In fall 2017, Walsh won the OSU Faculty Teaching Excellence Award for his unusually significant and meritorious achievement in teaching and scholarship that enhances effective instruction. An ESTEME@OSU Action Research Fellow, Walsh studied online learning in physics and successfully “flipped” his own classes – PROJECT BOXSAND (flipping the words around) – from a traditional lecture model to a more hands-on workshop-style class.

Recent department achievements include professor David McIntyre was named 2018 Honors College Eminent Professor Award for his outstanding teaching and mentoring, professor Corinne Manogue presented the 2018 Gilfillan Memorial Lecture on “Catalyzing the transformation of science learning,” and professor Janet Tate was named a 2018 Distinguished Professor at OSU, the university’s highest honor for faculty. Associate Dean and Physics Professor Henri Jansen received OSU’s Dar Reese Excellence in Advising Award for outstanding undergraduate advising. In 2016, instructor Chris Coffin received the College of Science’s Loyd F. Carter Award for Outstanding and Inspirational Undergraduate Teaching in Science.

Congratulations to the many, many faculty who have worked so hard over the years to make OSU Physics one of the best places in the nation not only to learn physics, but also to truly learn how to think like a physicist.

APS is the leading voice for physics and an authoritative source of physics information for the advancement of physics and the benefit of humanity. They collaborate with national scientific societies for the advancement of science, science education and the science community. Globally, they strive to cooperate with international physics societies to promote physics, to support physicists worldwide and to foster international collaboration.

Physics Department Head Heidi Schellman was recently tapped to lead a commission of the International Union for Pure and Applied Physics. She has demonstrated her leadership in research, in her teaching and in an administrative capacity on campus, nationally and globally.

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