Week 3: Redefining 'Busy'

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Friday, June 12, 2015


Hannah Pell

I knew that moving to D.C. and working with SPS for the summer was going to entail a jam-packed schedule full of outreach, office hours, sight-seeing, and exploring the city. Well during this past week, I experienced all of that… literally to the max.

Last weekend my partner on the SOCK project arrived and moved into the apartment.  We got right to work finishing the preparations for the Howard County STEM Festival on Sunday.   The HOCO STEM fest is a yearly gathering of local science, technology, engineering, and mathematics groups to showcase what they do and promote the sciences to the general community.  We chose activities from the 2014 SOCK which included demonstrations focused on polarization and fluorescence.  Ultimately, the day was quite a success; having the opportunity to STEMulate minds of the passing kids was something I won’t soon forget, especially seeing their excitement and curiosity for the world around them.  Kids are wonderful scientists.

The first part of the week overall not too eventful: Tuesday we joined the CEO for a luncheon (at which Shauna and I presented him his own set of Pan Pipes) and attended our weekly yoga session after work. But then… Wednesday.   After an early morning metro and driving commute, we arrived at Yorktown High School in Virginia, our second outreach opportunity.  Shauna and I were joined by Pat (AAPT) and Kyle (AIP Education and Communications intern), and together we co-taught four honors level physics classes. I’d be lying if I said that I wasn’t nervous.  With each class we continued to improve; we tried different techniques and methods for engaging the students and tweaking our presentation.  We tested out our pan pipes activity accompanied with a worksheet exploring mathematical methods to have handy in any physics toolbox.  Overall, the students were very receptive, and we received excellent feedback from Sean and their teacher about ways in which we can continue to improve our approach to outreach events such as that one.

We arrived back at AIP just in time for Fred Dylla’s retirement party.  The celebration was a wonderful and exciting tribute to all the work that he has done for this organization.  I was recruited to play ukulele as a member of ‘Publishing House Rock’, a make-name group for our rendition of School House Rock’s “I’m Just A Bill” performed as “I’m Just A Pre-Print.”  The crowd loved it, and I was especially excited to be able to contribute to the celebration in a fun and musical way.  It has been hard not having much time to spend with my oboe and other musical studies, so this was a nice change.

After the party, a group of us headed to Baltimore for a short conference on Women in Photonics at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory. We heard three speakers, all young women in engineering and physics just beginning their careers.  It is always pleasant to be reminded that as a woman pursuing or simply interested in science that you are not alone.  There is a support network that is alive and well, and I felt very inspired by the three young women pursuing their passions for science. I also got some more insight into the path of going to graduate school for physics, which was very beneficial for my current situation.

Thursday we had the opportunity to hear a talk at the University of Maryland on the subject of Women in Physics in the Netherlands, given by a lawyer interestingly enough.  She spoke of her efforts to increase the number of women pursuing graduate school in physics to allow for more women in academia.  She emphasized that although things are changing, we are still working in a man's world.  I could hear the passion in her voice to create more opportunities for women to continue in science, because (as I have personally felt) it can be difficult at times to feel like physics is a support network rather than big competition with men. I took away more insight into how the physics community is progressing on an international level and a new-found encouragement from other women in science.  

That night was the long-anticipated Congressional Baseball game for charity. Right after work, we Metro’d to the Navy Yards, first experiencing TaKorean (a blend of Korean and Mexican food) and then following it with literally the best ice cream I’ve ever had at Ice Cream Jubilee.  We walked to Nationals Park and took our front-row seats along the third baseline with the Democrats side. The game began around 7, and yes, watching old representatives play baseball is exactly as funny as it sounds.  The game started off really exciting, and then settled down a bit. But only for a bit, because then President Obama showed up! I couldn’t believe it, I was about a hundred feet away from the president of the United States. That was the most I had ever been excited about politics.  

FINALLY to finish out this incredibly fun and busy week, tonight we are spending a night out on the town with the SPS executive committee, dining at Clyde’s in Chinatown followed by a walking tour around the National Mall. I can’t believe all of the wonderful networking opportunities I have had this past week, especially because getting out and meeting new people is one of my favorite things to do! Every day I continue to be blown away by the welcoming atmosphere of SPS, AIP, and all else within the general physics community that I have met so far.  Additionally, I would like to reiterate how encouraging this community is for women in science; the positivity towards women-empowerment I experienced this week was overwhelming and a breath of fresh air.  

Hannah Pell