Student and Advisor

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Student and Advisor

Seeing Sigma Pi Sigma from both sides


Erin E. Flater, Associate Professor of Physics, Luther College, Decorah, IA

Erin E. Flater. Photo courtesy of Luther College.I was inducted into Luther College’s Sigma Pi Sigma chapter as a sophomore in April 1999. At the time I knew very little about the organization, but I knew it was an honor to be inducted. The ceremony was a joint awards ceremony for the physics, math, and computer science departments, and I clearly remember my professors and fellow students dressed up in suits-and-ties, which was very different from their normal attire.

Little did I know that a decade later I would be Luther College’s advisor to Sigma Pi Sigma and SPS, working to promote community among the physics students, encourage SPS chapter members to delve into physics a bit more deeply outside of their classes, and mentor SPS chapter officers. Nowadays, we are much less formal about our Sigma Pi Sigma inductions, and the ceremony is no longer held jointly with other departments. Instead, we often hold our induction ceremonies at an SPS picnic, so the atmosphere is much more lighthearted than at the suit-and-tie ceremony in which I was inducted.

Our SPS has gone on road trips to local universities and to Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory. We watch episodes of The Big Bang Theory together and answer student-posed questions submitted to our “Ask a Physics Major” box. We design yearly physics-themed t-shirts and put on the annual “Haunted Physics Lab” for community members and their kids.

Our longest-running event has been our semiannual SPS Picnic, where physics faculty, staff, and students gather at a local park to grill and play games. It’s a fun event for students to geek out and spend time together.

Community building is my favorite aspect of SPS and the Luther College Physics Department as a whole, a small department currently with five faculty members and 3–12 majors graduating each year. The department and SPS sponsor a number of events, including the semiannual SPS Picnic and the weekly Physics Tea. I love that these times allow students and faculty to just hang out together, eat donuts, drink coffee, and talk about anything from recent physics news to the latest viral video.

In our department the physics faculty members take turns as SPS and Sigma Pi Sigma advisor, and I’ve been happy to serve for the past 5 years. I am very proud of my students, and I hope that they feel it is a privilege to be a part of SPS and Sigma Pi Sigma, just like I did when I was a student.

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