Week 2: Lots of Firsts

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Saturday, June 11, 2022


Taylor Overcast

The first week of the internship passed quickly; however, somehow the second week flew by even faster. This week included a long list of firsts – attending a local Presbyterian church and eating lunch with the congregation, a Sunday afternoon trip to Arlington to visit friends (with an additional first of making curry with them), my first experience of getting lost on the metro (first thing on Monday morning), experiencing Thomas Jefferson High School with my mentor who teaches there, getting to virtually meet (almost) the rest of the AAPT leadership team, exploring the streets of Georgetown, and meeting and eating lunch with a Nobel Prize in Physics laureate! These were the events, combined with the sprinkling of Excel sheets and Zoom meetings, of another incredible week. 

The week started off with an interesting Sunday spent doing non-intern things. I decided to attend the church that is on the next block over from the hall that the interns are being housed in. It was much different than anything I have experienced, but I appreciated the incorporation of both Spanish and sign language in their service. The pastor asked me to stay for a small luncheon following the service, and I did. I was able to meet a few members of the congregation and had a lovely time getting to hear what areas I should check out from the locals. On Sunday afternoon, a good friend from college (who now lives in the area) picked me up and took me to the house that she and her husband just purchased. We decorated the walls while catching up with each other and then made a very tasty curry. I had never had curry so it was fun to get to make and try a new food. I am starting to think this blog might contain quite a few new foods over the weeks – there are so many things here that are not common in Tennessee. 

On Monday morning I got a little lost on the metro system – four trains later, I finally arrived at the correct station and made it to the American Center of Physics building. The metro was very foreign to me before coming here this summer. While it is not as hard to navigate as I expected, it still makes me slightly nervous that I will get on the wrong train, especially when I am alone. I guess getting on the wrong train is just another thing that I can check off my bucket list – although that one was not on there. Once I got to work, I continued filling out an Excel form to identify state policies for awarding Professional Development Points. One of the challenges that AAPT faces is that state-by-state policies vary – making offering credit for attending conferences very difficult. 

On Tuesday I had the opportunity to visit Thomas Jefferson High School with my mentor, Mark Hannum. Thomas Jefferson is the number one high school in the nation and I was amazed, and a little dumbfounded, as I walked the halls of the school. There are several specialized labs ranging from Oceanography and Geophysical Systems to Neuroscience, and students have the opportunity to choose and complete a research experiment in one of the available disciplines during their senior year. Mark is the mentor for the Quantum Physics and Optics lab, and I was able to walk through the labs and see the equipment. It was incredible, but also slightly overwhelming. The size of only the quantum lab was larger than the entirety of my college’s physics lab, and the equipment was very modern and unfamiliar to me. It is quite astonishing that the students learning the material are young high schoolers. 

I also had the opportunity to speak with one of the AP Physics classes that Mark teaches while I was there. It was humbling to visit with his students – they all had high hopes of attending top-tier colleges, and they seemed to have the drive, the knowledge, and the desire to be accepted and do quite well at them. The students were very kind and honest and answered my very long list of questions. While Thomas Jefferson is not a good representation of all, if not most, suburban schools, it was fascinating to see a school that was so different from the rural high school that I attended. The concerns of the students at Thomas Jefferson were so unlike the concerns of the students from my hometown. As I mentioned in my blog last week, I am beginning to study the long-term career impacts of the opportunity gap that so often holds the space between suburban and rural high schools. I hope that one day this gap can be lessened, and the proper measures can be taken to offer all students what they need to optimize their abilities. The American Association of Physics Teachers works hard to implement the resources they can to lessen the opportunity gap that occurs specifically in physics. 

Tuesday night I decided to take a walk through Georgetown with one of the other interns. It was a beautiful place to be, especially as the street lights reflected off the light rain shower that decided to fall. Exploring the city on long walks has been my favorite activity to do in my free time. It is still quite wild to think about the fact that I technically am living in Washington D.C. Wednesday was a very normal day. I worked on finishing some Excel documents, researched the impacts of rural education, and met on Zoom with Mark and Justine (Assistant to the K12 Program Manager) to talk about the quickly approaching AAPT Summer Conference. 

On Thursday all of the interns made the trip to the American Center of Physics building for a very special lunch with Dr. John Mather. Dr. Mather is an astrophysicist and cosmologist that was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics for his work on the Cosmic Background Explorer Satellite (COBE). He has achieved and published too many things in his lifetime to include on this blog, but I highly recommend googling his biography. Ironically, Dr. Mather was educated in a rural area; however, both of his parents were well-educated – a researcher and a school-teacher. I had the opportunity to ask Dr. Mather how he believes the opportunity gap can best be lessened. His paraphrased response was that while no education reformation can reasonably be made to make the opportunity gap disappear, ensuring students have materials to read is one of the most important things to offer better opportunities. 

His words were quite simple, yet very profound to me. A Nobel Prize in Physics laureate was giving me the same advice that my mother has told me since I was a young child. I believe that reading is a gift that many students (from all walks of life) overlook. Reading provides knowledge, and knowledge leads to opportunity. Dr. Mather shared his experiences and his thoughts on many subjects with us – struggling to finish his sandwich because we would not stop asking him questions. It was truly a phenomenal opportunity to get to speak with such a world renowned physicist and I am grateful he took the time to come and speak with us. 


Until next week,

Taylor Overcast