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From Near Extinction to Modeled Excellence: The UW La Crosse Physics Program


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Title: From Near Extinction to Modeled Excellence: The UW La Crosse Physics Program

From Near Extinction to Modeled ExcellenceThe
UW La Crosse Physics Program
  • Gubbi Sudhakaran
  • Department of Physics
  • University of Wisconsin-La Crosse
  • SPIN-UP Regional Workshop
  • Marquette University
  • June 19th 2009

Brief History
  • In the early 90s, the Department of Physics had
    a total of 6 physics majors, 5 faculty and a
    graduation rate of one physics major every two
    years. Research was virtually nonexistent.
  • The Department had received poor reviews from the
    Academic Program Review committee and UW-System
    had recommended phasing out the UW-L Physics
    Program due to low graduation rates.

The Department was on the verge of becoming
Fall 2008
  • There were 120 majors, 8 faculty and 21
    graduating physics majors in the 2007-2008
    academic year.
  • For the fall 2008 semester, 38 freshmen entered
    UW-L as physics majors.

Factors Contributing to Success
  • Academic Programs
  • Emphases and Concentrations
  • Dual Degree Program
  • Undergraduate Research
  • Seminar for Credit
  • Recruitment
  • Assessment

Introduction of New Academic Programs
One of the important additions in attracting new
physics majors was the introduction of a set of
emphasis programs that could be packaged along
with course and career information.
Physics major with a) Astronomy emphasis b)
Computational physics emphasis c) Optics
emphasis d) Business concentration e)
Biomedical concentration
  • Student interest
  • Faculty expertise
  • Employment opportunities

Dual Degree Program
This is a collaborative program between UW-L and
four engineering colleges (UW-Madison, Milwaukee,
Platteville and U. Minnesota). The students spend
three years at UW-L studying physics and then
transfer to an engineering college for two years.
The student receives a B.S. degree in physics
(along with a math minor) from UW-L and a B.S.
degree in engineering from the engineering
college. The dual degree program combines the
richness of a traditional liberal arts education
with scientific and technological skills so much
in demand today.
Undergraduate Research
One of the major facts that leads to high student
satisfaction with our program is a strong set of
research experiences for the undergraduate
physics majors.
Incentive for Faculty and Students Student
Presentations Student Awards
  • Annual UW-L Undergraduate Research Symposium
  • Annual UW-System Undergraduate Research Symposium
  • Annual Wisconsin Space Grant Consortium
  • National Council on Undergraduate Research
  • Annual Undergraduate Research Poster Session on
    Capitol Hill

Incentive for Faculty
  • Teaching Credit for involving Undergraduate
  • Students in Research
  • Reduce Teaching Load for new Faculty
  • Humane Teaching Assignments for new Faculty
  • Schedule free time for Research
  • Bring new Faculty in one month early

Student Scholarships/Grants/Awards
  • Wisconsin Space Grant Consortium Undergraduate
  • Wisconsin Space Grant Consortium Undergraduate
    Research Fellowship
  • American Physical Society, Division of Laser
    Science Summer Research Fellowship
  • Sigma Xi Grants-In-Aid Research Award
  • NASA Academy Summer Research Fellowship
  • Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship
  • Strzelczek Award
  • Murphy Award
  • Homeland Security Scholarship

External Funding
  • National Science Foundation 1,194,090
  • RUI 613,672
  • MRI 404,906
  • ILI 88,162
  • CRIF 69,950
  • International 17,400
  • Research Corporation 156,071
  • NASA (Astronomy) 172,301
  • Educational Grants 180,000
  • Total 1,702462

Seminar for Credit
This was designed to provide a meeting place for
the majors and faculty. Students must attend all
seminars and either present a seminar or write a
report on one of them at the end of the semester.
  • Speakers from various fields
  • Showcase undergraduate research
  • Talks on research topics, careers, and
    engineering programs
  • Physics Club-SPS events
  • Distinguished Lecture Series in Physics

The Annual Distinguished Lecture Series in
2001 DLS speaker 1997 Nobel Laureate in
Physics Steven Chu Stanford University
2000 DLS speaker 1997 Nobel Laureate in
Physics William D. Phillips National Institute of
Standards and Technology
2003 DLS speaker 1996 Nobel Laureate in Physics
Robert Richardson Cornell University
2002 DLS speaker 1996 Nobel Laureate in Physics
Douglas D. Osheroff Stanford University
2005 DLS speaker 1998 Nobel Laureate in Physics
Horst L. Stormer Columbia University
2004 DLS speaker 1993 Nobel Laureate in Physics
Joseph H. Taylor Princeton University
2007 DLS speaker 2001 Nobel Laureate in
Physics Eric Cornell NIST, Boulder, CO
2006 DLS speaker 2001 Nobel Laureate in
Physics Wolfgang Ketterle Massachusetts Institute
of Technology
2008 DLS speaker 2004 Nobel Laureate in
Physics Frank Wilczek MIT
2009 DLS speaker 2002 Nobel Laureate in
Physics Riccardo Giacconi John Hopkins University
Recruitment Tools
  • High school Recruitment
  • Campus Close-Ups
  • Department Tours
  • Physics Demos/Laser Shows
  • Freshmen Scholarships

  • A 3-member assessment committee is responsible
    for the oversight of the departments assessment
  • All department members participate in the
    assessment effort at the course level.
  • An annual meeting dedicated to assessment is
    required by our bylaws.
  • Results of assessment are discussed. Action
    Item(s) identified for the following year

Program Goals
  • Understand basic and advanced concepts of
    classical and modern physics.
  • Understand and be able to use high-level
    mathematics to solve physics problems.
  • Compete successfully for graduate schools and/or
    jobs, and perform well therein.
  • Design and conduct experiments, to make careful
    and accurate measurements using many different
    kinds of equipment and to correctly analyze and
    interpret experimental data
  • Use symbolic and numerical computer software to
    solve physics problems, and to acquire, plot, and
    analyze data.
  • Effectively communicate (oral and written) using
    conventional scientific style.

AssessmentCapstone Course
  • Major Field Test in Physics (ETS)
  • Presentation of material in a paper from the
    primary literature, to an audience of Physics
    faculty students
  • Short write-up (Ask a Physicist
    newspaper-column style) of a physics topic chosen
    by the students
  • Fermi Questions (process estimation skills
    emphasized) Test
  • Math Skills Test designed by faculty in our

AssessmentClosing the Feedback Loop
  • Introduced presentations on contemporary topics
    into sophomore-level physics classes.
  • The Department introduced several new courses
    (PHY 320 Statics, PHY 334 Circuits, PHY 432
    Advanced E M, and PHY 470 Advanced QM).
  • Based on both direct and indirect measures, the
    department introduced Computational Physics in a
    sophomore level lab.
  • Department developed a Capstone Course.

  • Listed in the Top Ten of The AIP Statistical
    Research Center, Enrollments and Degrees Annual
  • UW System Regents Teaching Excellence Award

(No Transcript)
The UW La Crosse Physics Department receiving the
2004 UW System Regents Teaching Excellence Award
From Governor Jim Doyle
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