SPS Outstanding Chapter Advisor
University of Mary Washington
Varun Makhija is an assistant professor of physics in the Department of Chemistry and Physics at the University of Mary Washington (UMW). UMW is a public, liberal arts, undergraduate institution in Fredericksburg, Virginia. Dr. Makhija started his position at UMW in 2019, when he also became faculty advisor of UMW’s SPS chapter. He was met with a relatively dormant chapter, but with very enthusiastic students for whom he became an enthusiastic facilitator. At the end of 2019, he found himself the only
tenure-track physics faculty member in the program. As such, the SPS chapter served as a primary vehicle to reestablish a physics community at UMW, and rebuild the program. SPS officers and students served essential functions like actively participating in searches for new faculty, and accompanying Dr. Makhija to admissions events.
SPS officers and Dr. Makhija meet every week to plan events that made SPS and the physics program more visible to the UMW community. These included a now established, public SPS colloquium series, a regular astronomy night also open to the public – the last of which drew over 100 attendees – and an on-campus bake sale. The officers took the lead in envisioning, planning and executing these events with Dr. Makhija serving as facilitator. For instance, they invited colloquium speakers, advertised the talk
across campus, booked the room or setup the Zoom meeting, setup a schedule for an in-person speaker, and were the primary point of contact for the speakers. With the cessation of in-person activities on campus, the online SPS colloquiums have allowed for an impressive array of speakers including Dr. Stephon Alexander, author of The Jazz of Physics and past president of the National Society of Black Physicists, Dr. James Stith, President Emeritus of AIP and Dr. Phil Bucksbaum past president of APS.
Dr. Makhija has played many roles while representing the physics program at UMW over the last three years, but SPS advisor has undoubtedly been the most rewarding and enjoyable part of his job. He is grateful to have had the opportunity to do this.