National Society of Black Physicists: Providing a Home for Physics Students

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National Society of Black Physicists: Providing a Home for Physics Students


Kendra Redmond, Editor

Elon Price graduated last spring from North Carolina State University and is now a graduate student in the Fisk-Vanderbilt Bridge Program. Photo courtesy of Elon Price.“I wasn’t really sure what I was in for,” laughs Elon Price as she recalls her first National Society of Black Physicists (NSBP) conference in 2016. At the time, she was just getting into upper-level physics classes as an undergraduate at North Carolina State University. “It was nothing short of an amazing experience to see so many black physicists,” she says. “It was the best thing I could have done so early in my career, because it gave me a sense of community and the encouragement I needed to continue.”

At that NSBP meeting, more than 150 undergraduates, graduate students, and physics faculty gathered at Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory for plenary talks, interactive panel discussions, student research presentations, and networking sessions. The meeting offered a change of scenery for Price, one of three black students in her physics department. She immediately felt welcome and comfortable. She left inspired.

That experience helped Price land a research position and prompted her to become active in the physics community inside and outside of her department. She’s attended two more NSBP conferences since then, as well as larger, topical physics meetings with several thousands of researchers. Topical meetings offer a wealth of opportunities and resources because of their sheer size but can leave some attendees feeling out of place.

“[I]t was so much larger and felt a lot less personal,” says Price about one such meeting. “There was just me and a very small group of people of color. That kind of brought me back to reality a little bit.”

African Americans are significantly underrepresented in physics compared to other fields, and even more so when compared to the general population. The NSBP promotes the professional well-being of African American physicists through efforts aimed at preparing students for success, increasing the number of black physicists, and increasing the visibility of physics contributions by minorities in the field.

Joshua Burrow is a graduate student at the University of Dayton and the student representative to the NSBP board. Photo courtesy of Joshua Burrow.Joshua Burrow earned his physics bachelor’s at Morehouse College, a historically black college, in 2012. He attended his first NSBP meeting in 2015 in Baltimore, Maryland. Even though at the time he was attending a historically black college, being surrounded by so many black physicists left an impression. “I felt welcomed by the African American physicists and the allies of our community, and I left inspired to pursue a doctoral degree,” he says. Now a graduate student at the University of Dayton, a predominantly white institution, Burrow says that he appreciates NSBP gatherings even more.

Today, Price is a member of the NSBP student council, and Burrow is the student representative to the NSBP board. As NSBP student leaders, they are spearheading an effort to establish NSBP chapters on college and university campuses to promote an ongoing sense of community among members. They are also collaborating with the National Society of Hispanic Physicists (NSHP) to plan a student leadership conference for physics undergraduate and graduate students in 2020. 
Joshua Burrow explains processes conducted in the Nano-Fab Lab at the University of Dayton during a workshop for high school students attending a women in engineering camp. Photo by Ankita Khanolkar.

For minority students studying physics, Burrow recommends getting involved in an organization like the NSBP or NSHP. “They provide a sense of hope and belonging and a place where you can build a good network,” he says. To those in the majority, Price suggests spreading the word about these organizations to students who may benefit. She found out about NSBP when a faculty member sent a meeting announcement around by email. “I felt isolated and sort of accepted it,” she says. “When I went to NSBP I definitely felt less isolated, and I didn’t think to do that myself.” 
Physics students, alums, and faculty from Morehouse and Spelman Colleges at the 2018 NSBP national conference. Photo by Kyron Keelen.

Related Resources

· American Indian Science & Engineering Society–
· Conferences for Undergraduate Women in Physics–
· National Society of Black Physicists–
· National Society of Hispanic Physicists–
· LGBT+ physicists and astronomers–
· Society for the Advancement of Chicanos and Native Americans in Science–

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