A Space for Community

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A Space for Community


Elizabeth Buchheim, SPS Chapter President, Colorado School of Mines

Nestled in the Front Range of the Rocky Mountains sits the Colorado School of Mines in Golden, Colorado. Golden is home to zesty adventures and flocking tourists, but it’s also home to a rigorous applied science and engineering university. And within that university there’s one place where physics and engineering physics students can always find respite: CoorsTek 188, or "the lounge."

The Mines physics lounge has two sides: one geared toward computer-based projects and extensive whiteboard work, the other for eating and relaxing between campus activities. The mood of the students on each side reflects its purpose, shifting from hard-core studying to simply enjoying each other’s company.

SPS member Paul Slayback stated that "Physics majors are like pendulums. Once you get two or more together, it becomes chaotic.” There’s no better way to describe our group. At any point during the school week, you’ll see 20 students crowded around a table gleefully shouting about an intense match of Uno while another group huddles around a whiteboard learning quantum mechanics. You’ll see sketches of students and professors as friendly ghosts. You’ll hear students quipping about difficult homework and how to build a personalized mechanical keyboard. You’ll smell freshly brewed coffee and the assorted aromas of lunchtime. Most of all, you’ll get the feeling that students are genuinely comfortable here.

SPS members enjoy time outside the physics lounge while making cookies in an Easy-Bake  Oven. Photos courtesy of  Elizabeth Buchheim. Mines SPS officers (L-R) Olivia Jackson, Elizabeth Buchheim, and Connor Hewson sport newly designed shirts in front of the “Physics at Mines” ghost sketch in the lounge.Fostering engagement in our SPS chapter means creating a safe space that is an on-campus home for anyone with a curiosity for science. Last year, our chapter made it a goal to be consistently accessible in the physics lounge. This meant having professors host office hours in the lounge and having impromptu frisbee and hacky sack tournaments in the nearby field. A spring collaboration between the Society of Women in Physics (SWiP), SPS, and Sigma Pi Sigma created a weekly evening study environment. The study sessions were equipped with food and upper-level students, who taught skills such as LaTeX and Linux and helped others with introductory physics homework.

To further ensure that the lounge is a welcoming space, we plan to continue these study sessions and engage current and future members through small, yet perpetual efforts. During the fall, SPS members will visit introductory-level physics classrooms and personally invite students to join. We plan to foster appreciation through weekly member recognition emails and by adorning the lounge with cheerful photographs of chapter members. Most importantly, we are further developing an SPS mentorship program where upper-level students meet with first- and second-year students to establish a support network.

Step by step, we can build a chapter based upon tight relationships. Outreach events, campus volunteering, and social gatherings all mean so much more when we continuously encourage and inspire one another. Our chapter thrives when we all climb together. By forming connections at weekly meetings, in mentoring relationships, and during friendly discussions in the lounge, we create a space where students know that learning physics isn’t a mile-high task because we’re in it together.

Build Community in Your Chapter

For community-building ideas and resources, check out:

  • “(Re) Starting Your SPS Chapter” on page 20
  • SPS resources for chapters at spsnational.org/resources/chapters
  • The SPS Observer’s archive of Interactions stories at spsnational.org/the-sps-observer/sps-observer-departments/interactions-sps-chapters-action 

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