Week 7: Michigan!

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Saturday, July 16, 2022


Taylor Overcast

There is no way for words on a screen to give this week justice. Not to be dramatic, but this week is one that I will remember for the rest of my life. This week I attended the AAPT Summer Meeting in Grand Rapids, Michigan. I drove with Mark (my mentor) and arrived on Sunday night. The meeting began in full swing on Monday morning – I got to see presentations, talk with very influential educators, and meet Mark’s previous interns. I gave my presentation on the long-term impacts of low-income schools on Tuesday morning, and it was followed by an incredible discussion from the teachers that took the time to come. On Tuesday night I had the opportunity to meet a physics education researcher that I have looked up to over the summer as I have read many of her articles. Long story short… It was a great week.

In addition to all of these amazing things that I am going to describe in much more detail, I went to an event at the National Portrait Gallery last Friday night. Even though it was not part of the conference, it was too incredible to leave out of the weekly blog. The event was called Truth Tellers and it was by far my favorite external event yet. The artist, Robert Shetterly, tells the story of Americans that are fighting for social justice through his portraits. The pictures are quite amazing, but the stories he told in the documentary and in his interview are even more moving. 

I did not take any pictures of the event; however, here is one of Lucy and me walking by the White House on the way home:

On Saturday I metroed to Virginia and saw four of my cousins that live there (one of my first cousins, her husband, and their two children). It is always fun to see them! I went home and carefully packed a couple of blazers and pairs of dress pants and then the crazy week began on Sunday.

Mark picked me up around 8 on Sunday morning. The drive was supposed to be around 9.5 hours. However, with a couple Zoom meeting hiccups, the drive ended up being around 12 hours due to stopping for a board meeting. Once we got to Michigan, we walked into one of the fanciest hotels I have ever seen. The views were amazing and the hotel felt like a tiny city inside. It had shops, restaurants, a gym, a pool, pickleball courts, a fantastic fountain, and the conference center was connected by a skywalk. We dropped our stuff off in our respective rooms – I got the luckier end of the deal and got a corner room with an amazing view of the city through two wall size windows. We then went to dinner and took a quick walk to plan for the next day and stretch our legs from the long car ride. 

This is through my window:

Then the conference officially began on Monday morning. We (mostly Mark) were in charge of the K-12 Teacher Resource room. On Monday morning STEP UP came and presented. STEP UP is an APS program that promotes minorities in physics, and is a program that I really want to learn more about. In addition, the room had a lively topical discussion on making physics accessible for all students. During the discussion, I was able to meet another undergraduate student that was there presenting her Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion research – I was even able to attend her talk later in the week. After the morning sessions there was a K-12 luncheon. At the meeting Mark and I were able to ask some questions to get good feedback from the teachers that were present. In addition, I was able to meet two of Mark’s previous interns.

Here is a picture of the four of us:

That afternoon Get the Facts Out presented on the physics teacher shortage and then we hosted a feedback session. We were able to hear many ideas and thoughts about the program and how we could better serve the teachers that were present. Mark then moved over to the K-12 committee meeting. I felt like a lucky little shadow being able to enter all the committee meetings and dinners with Mark. No one seemed too interested if he introduced me as his intern, but everyone wanted to talk with me if he told them I was a future physics educator. We then went to dinner with about 25 K-12 teachers and one of Mark’s previous interns. It was so fun to be surrounded by that many physicists that were also educators… I never thought I would find people that actually like to talk about the same things as me. It was amazing to get to hang out with them and see that, behind being amazing educators, they are people too. 

On Tuesday morning I wanted to go watch the SPS folks give their talks. Luckily, the timing worked out and I went and watched Kayla and Brad present. They did incredible jobs talking about the projection of physics majors over the course of the next few years. It was interesting to see the data and hear their opinions on the matter. Directly following their presentations, I began mine. As I have talked about in previous blogs, I presented on "The Long-Term Impacts of Attending a Low-Income School." The presentation was about 35 minutes with a 25 minute seminar-style discussion following. It was incredible to hear the teachers’ opinions – many of them were not people that I had interacted with yet. If anyone is interested in seeing the data that I presented, I would be glad to email out the pdf of it. The topic is something that needs to be acknowledged and known – my email is taylor.overcast2 [at] gmail.com (I created a new email just for this purpose… so please use it to ask questions).

Here is a picture of me presenting… I believe I was presenting on the concept of preschool education at the moment. The set up for the presentation was a little awkward (I had to turn my back to a few people), but overall it was a great first experience with a crowd of that type:

We then had another topical discussion. This one was on the topic of teaching upper level physics in high schools. This question was slightly confusing to me, but the point of the conversation was to discuss how far students should be pushed in their physics careers within high school. I had a slightly ironic situation occur during this talk and sat down next to my college roommate’s summer roommate (yes, I know that was confusing) and was able to meet her. I was aware she would be there and of her name, but neither of us knew what the other looked like so I assumed we would probably not meet. I then went to a presentation that was not in our room, and then drifted and met with some people in the conference center. I then returned to the K-12 room for a PhET presentation. PhET is a fantastic online simulation resource for physics. I used it in high school, and it was particularly amazing to see how far the system had come since then. I then went and grabbed a (particularly amazing) cold brew coffee with Ben (a previous AAPT intern) and picked his brain about education and existing as a young physicist. By the end of the trip, we became good friends. It was cool to see how easy it is to form bonds with people that are similar to you and have similar experiences. Before this internship I had met only a handful of physics people – most of them were my professors and my roommate. It has been amazing to begin forming a network of people that I can continue to communicate with for support, resources, and to share similar experiences long after the internship is over. 

Here is a picture of Ben and my coffee (shout out to STEP UP for providing the shirts):

That evening I went to another feedback session in our room. It was similar to the first day, but with a different crew of people. I then returned our projector and caught the tailend of a DEI session that was being presented by undergrads. I then met up with Mark to attend a committee meeting and then we headed to join the Get the Facts Out Crew at a local restaurant – the most exciting part of the trip.

I will be geeking out for a minute, and might even be slightly embarrassed admitting how excited I was about this experience. I will set the scene… Mark and I were running late to the dinner because of the committee meeting. We walked up to the outdoor seating and there were two sets of two seats on opposite ends of the table. One set was in front of Dr. Gay Stewart, and of course that’s the set we chose. Now I am sure that many of you may not know who she is because not everyone is a physics nerd, but I will be glad to save you Googling. However, please Google her and read her articles about her research – I used them while preparing for my presentation and they are quite insightful. Dr. Stewart is a Physics Education Researcher at West Virginia who greatly assisted in rewriting the curriculum for AP Physics I and II. This rewrite allowed the course to be more accessible in low-income areas and other underserved populations. Her research is very influential on the community of physics, and I was lucky enough to be able to talk to her for about two hours. There are some conversations that I know I will never forget and I believe that will be one of them.

On Wednesday morning Mark and I packed up and headed out early – of course, getting coffee on the way (physics people have to have coffee – there is a long story behind this, but take my word for it). We made good time on the way home – only about ten hours! I enjoyed being able to talk with him about the conference and dissect everything that had occurred. Mark has been an amazing mentor, and I was especially grateful for him this week with all the new experiences. The conference was amazing and I am so grateful for the experience. Thank you to everyone that made it possible for me to attend!

The first day back in the office, the AIP Foundation team provided lunch to get to know the background stories of the interns and to check in on how our summers were going. It was nice of them to have us, and it was fun to have all the interns together again. There were some that I had not seen in a couple of weeks, and I missed all of them while I was gone (even though it was only a few days). 

Even though this blog is quite a long one, I know that I left out quite a few things. This week was so full of amazing experiences that I had to choose what to include – even then it seems quite detailed and long. While a blog post does not do it justice, I hope you were able to get a little insight into how amazing this week was and how grateful I was to have the opportunity to experience it!

P.S. the interns on the third floor finally found the light switch today.

Cheers to a good week,

Taylor Overcast