Week 1: Lots of Changes

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Saturday, June 4, 2022


Taylor Overcast

The first week of a ten-week journey is now completed and I am already realizing that the summer will be gone in the blink of an eye. On Saturday I drove from my home state of Tennessee to my cousins’ house in northern Virginia. The 11 hour drive went quite smoothly, except for the occasional jitters thinking about what the summer would hold. As I arrived at my cousins’ house, a warm welcoming crew of her pair of toddlers made the area immediately feel less foreign. On Sunday I completed the final hour of my drive to arrive at Philip Amsterdam Hall, located on the beautiful George Washington campus. As I began to unpack my things, I finally realized that I had truly made it to an internship… this was not just a short trip in a new city with a group of strangers that had shared a few GroupMe messages. Also, this was not just any internship, but an internship that will grow my skills, network, and wisdom for my future career in unimaginable ways. I am the American Association of Physics Teachers Professional Development Programs Intern for the summer. I have plans to one day, not only teach in a classroom, but make a difference in the way that education is given to students. 

On the first night, the interns that were already on campus met each other. It was at that moment that I knew that I would not be on this journey lonely – there were other people in the internship that felt natural to talk to. Our first full day in D.C. was Memorial Day. I do not believe there is a better place to celebrate Memorial Day than on Constitution Avenue watching the parade. Being in the capitol increased my gratitude and made me truly appreciate the meaning of the holiday. In addition to attending the parade, it was fun to begin getting to know my fellow interns, as most of them had arrived by the time of the parade. We explored the city some before and after the parade and had the opportunity to see several monuments and buildings. 

The second full day was Orientation and I loved getting to hear from the leadership and staff of the American Institute of Physics and the Society of Physics Students. There were moments that were surreal sitting in the American Center of Physics and talking to Brad Conrad – the man, the myth, and the legend behind all the physics emails I had received since declaring a physics major over three years ago. I was also able to meet Jack Hehn, the current volunteering AAPT Senior Fellow. I feel sure that I will learn an innumerable amount of knowledge from both Dr. Hehn and my mentor, Mark Hannum. 

After orientation the “real” start of the internship began and I began working on research for outreach opportunities (including the Astronomy on the Mall event), compiling lists and making fliers for the national AAPT conference, and contemplating the impact of a rural education on the likeliness of a student to attend a 4-year institution, specifically in a physics-related field. These are topics that will return and be discussed in future blog posts as I have time and opportunities to gain knowledge about them.

I would like to take the time to mention and honor Dr. William Nettles. Dr. Nettles was the chair of the physics department at Union University. Sadly, Dr. Nettles passed away earlier this week after a few months of health issues. Dr. Nettles was a remarkably talented and brilliant man. His classes were dreaded due to the intensity of them; however, he was always willing to help you if you had the discipline and nerve to attend his office hours. At the beginning of college, I was rudely surprised that my knowledge in the physics realm was subpar. I was discouraged and, honestly, quite tempted to drop the physics major and continue on with only my math major. However, Dr. Nettles did not let that happen. He allowed me to sit in his office for hours – working on tricky problems, talking about future plans, and giving me any random advice or wisdom that he wanted to share with me. Dr. Nettles made sure that I understood that I had potential and that, while my incoming knowledge was lower than my peers, if I continued to work hard, I would be capable of catching up to them and completing the major. 

My last conversation with him was in the spring on the morning before the interview for this internship. In his typical matter of fact way, he advised me that I needed to stop talking with my hands because it was distracting and that I needed to either gain or fake the confidence to maintain eye contact with my interviewer. His words rang in my ears while I interviewed for this position, and ever since when I meet new people. It will be advice that I will forever need the reminder of and a conversation that I will remember fondly. Due to his encouragement to apply to this internship, his recommendation letter, his words of advice for the interview, and his patience to allow me to catch up in my physics knowledge, I will always be grateful to him for this opportunity. Dr. Nettles will be greatly missed by Union University, the Jackson community, and all the students he has touched over the years.

I am very grateful for this opportunity and I look forward to what the summer holds! 

Until next week,

Taylor Overcast