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The Director's Space
A farewell from the directorBy:
Sean Bentley, Director (2014-2015), Sigma Pi Sigma and Society of Physics Students
As I finish my time at Sigma Pi Sigma and the Society of Physics Students (SPS) and prepare to return to academia, I am reflecting on why many of us find undergraduate physics education so important. It is at the heart of what Sigma Pi Sigma celebrates and what SPS works to improve and enhance. There is value in knowledge itself. There is value in having more people understand the fundamentals of physics, and how to reason through problems is certainly a plus for society. But for many of us, our work in education is more about impacting lives.
College is a transformational time in a person’s life. For most, it is a transition from youth to adult, from dependent to independent, from student to professional. Many enter college not sure what they want to do with their lives, yet feeling pressure to choose a major and plan the next 50 years in a few months. As if this wasn’t enough, students also struggle with financial, social, and personal issues. While these struggles are not limited to physics majors, those who choose to major in physics or a related field may more likely be people who excelled all through K–12. They suddenly face classes in which the average on an exam may be at a level considered failing in most majors. If anyone needs help, certainly an undergraduate in physics does.
Regardless of the details of the challenges we faced, all of us in Sigma Pi Sigma went through the life of an undergraduate in physics. That makes it even more real and more personal for us. We see ourselves in these students, and we feel their struggles as though they are our own. In my 13 years in academia, I have worked with many students whose problems exceeded any I ever went through. I am happy to say that many of them have gone on to successful lives and careers. As is a common theme in Sigma Pi Sigma, only a few ultimately earned a PhD in physics. Most went on to a variety of other fields, from medicine to Spanish literature. Helping students become professionals is the primary reason many of us want to make a difference in undergraduate physics education. Regardless of what career path you have chosen, I hope that as a Sigma Pi Sigma member or friend, you want to help the students of today.
So as I leave you, I want to remind you of three key ways you can impact the lives of undergraduates with an interest in physics through your involvement in Sigma Pi Sigma. You can give of your knowledge and time by connecting with students at your alma mater or a local chapter (and be watching for information on the new Sigma Pi Sigma mentoring network to be launched in the future). You can come meet the students and share your experiences with them firsthand at our Quadrennial Physics Congress in San Francisco this November. Finally, you can help support them financially by giving to our scholarships, internships, Congress travel fund, and more at donate.aip.org.
It has been an honor to serve as director of our fine organization. Thank you for all that you do, and let’s all keep working to positively impact young lives.