We Built our Community Without a Single Movie Night

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We Built our Community Without a Single Movie Night


Patrick Carroll, SPS Member, Miami University of Ohio 

Members of the Miami University of Ohio SPS chapter, the Department of Physics, and their families come together to have a water balloon toss contest. Twice a year, in the Fall and Spring, the SPS chapter hosts a picnic for the Department of Physics. Photo courtesy of Jay Murdock.

Last academic year, the newly elected officers of our chapter, myself included, sat down to form an ambitious plan: to grow our SPS chapter into a more active and tight-knit community. We had only three rules for ourselves. First, we needed to be more active than the previous years. It did not matter if that meant service projects, social events, fundraising, or doing physics, so long as we were doing more than we had been. Second, every meeting needed to have a purpose. We were not going to just get together to say we did. Meetings became about things like planning events, playing with lab equipment, or meeting with visiting speakers. And last: no movie nights. The only thing that our chapter had done regularly had been a monthly pizza and movie night, but we felt that sitting in a dark room and staring at a screen in silence did not really help build the community we were looking for.

We thought hard about what kind of community we wanted to build. More involved in community service? More social? More diverse? Within our own department and chapter we noticed several issues we wanted to address. There were retention issues with physics majors after their freshman year, regardless of whether they were SPS members; upperclassmen tended to not interact with underclassmen; and our department and chapter were not as diverse as we would have liked. To try to address these problems, a handful of SPS members volunteered to begin a mentoring program for first-year students within our department. This was entirely student designed and led, and included a mixture of social events and guided discussions. This has led to first-year students becoming more involved and presenting research by the end of their freshman year. Further, this has led to them becoming more involved in SPS, including one even running for office.

Last year we also decided to learn about and build an interferometer, letting different students lead different aspects of the yearlong project. Some students researched the history of interferometers. Others worked on building it, and ultimately we presented the project as a physics education research poster at our Undergraduate Research Forum. This not only helped give a sense of accomplishment to those who were involved and the chapter as a whole, but it helped develop leadership and laboratory skills while also bringing those on the project closer together. It also encouraged us to aim for bigger and more intimidating projects in the future.

Members of the Miami University of Ohio SPS chapter demonstrate Lenz’s law and the Meissner effect at Mega Fair, a campus-wide event which allows organizations to recruit new members. Photo courtesy of Amber Williams.

Our chapter activities don’t stop with physics. For example, we held a large board-game-based charity fundraiser, which included other organizations on campus, because a few students had a passion for (and sizeable collection of) games. Your community will have its own personalities to build on. Do you have someone who is interested in a subject and would be willing to show others? Do some students have a special skill or passion they could come together to share? Maybe you have a large group of nontraditional, veteran, or international students who have resources, skills, or knowledge that would make for a wholly unique or new experience.

The Miami University of Ohio SPS chapter, the Astronomy Club, and the Strategic Game Club pose for a group photo 21 hours into a 24-hour board game marathon. This event, part of the National Extra Life Charity Drive, helps support Cincinnati Children’s and other Children’s Miracle Network hospitals. Photo courtesy of Amber Williams.

You are what makes your community, and the only way to grow that community is to get out there and be involved. Plan events. Ask for volunteers. Set goals. You will have successes and you will have failures, but every time you try your community will grow a little stronger and a little closer. In time, your SPS chapter will take on a life of its own. Finally, take pictures and keep a record of everything your chapter does over the year, big or small, because you will be surprised by how much you have accomplished and grown. Even if all does not go according to plan, you will still have an amazing and memorable time building your community.

Miami University of Ohio alumni Matt Dopkiss meets with sophomore physics students, followed by a lunch with SPS members. Matt was one of the Miami University of Ohio’s “18 of the last 9,” which recognizes 18 outstanding alumnus who graduated within the last 9 years. Photo courtesy of Matt Kuhn.


For a list of sample chapter activities that your chapter can do to remain active throughout the school year, check out page 20 of the 2017-18 SPS & Sigma Pi Sigma Information Handbook:

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