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The Many Benefits of Engaging SPS Chapter Alumni
Pathways - Advice from Experienced Voices
The Many Benefits of Engaging SPS Chapter Alumni
Mel Blake, SPS Chapter Advisor and Planetarium Director, University of North Alabama
Tradition. It can mean a lot of things to a lot of people. At its heart it’s a way of recognizing that we’re all part of a continuum, a flow of history and achievement, with science and culture advancing for the better. It also appeals to our inherent need as human beings to belong to a society. We are, after all, social creatures evolved to work best toward common goals with our peers. We all want our achievements to be remembered and valued. One important way that this can be accomplished in a Society of Physics Students chapter is by connecting with alumni.
SPS alumni are more than just “old timers” who tell stories about the way it was. They’re also people who’ve experienced being students of one of the most challenging university majors. They know the struggles, the stress, and the anxiety about whether it will all be worth it in the end (it will be, by the way). Many SPS chapters spend a lot of time establishing themselves as a resource for students, and those responsible for building and shaping the chapter want to know that the traditions of service and camaraderie don’t end with their departure. Engaging alumni in your chapter activities will be rewarding both for the students and the alumni.
Our chapter at the University of North Alabama (UNA) remains in contact with our alumni through several means. The easiest and perhaps most natural is through an active social media presence that keeps members and alumni informed and engaged in projects and initiatives. This can sometimes have surprising benefits. For instance, we recently rebuilt the UNA observatory and posted some photos taken through the telescope. An alumnus on our Facebook feed saw the photos and offered us some H-alpha filters. We weren’t asking for anything, but he wanted to be a part of the resurgent observatory.
Another way we engage with alumni is through Sigma Pi Sigma inductions. We almost always choose an alumnus to be the keynote speaker for our induction ceremony, and we have never been turned down. We’ve also inducted alumni into our Sigma Pi Sigma chapter; sometimes an alumnus will give a talk and then be inducted. It makes for a special night.
Even if you don’t have a Sigma Pi Sigma chapter, maintaining connections with alumni can be of great benefit. Many of our alumni have gone on to work in industry. On several occasions, we’ve been contacted by alumni because the company they work for is hiring, and they want to know if we have graduating students who might be interested in applying. The first job after graduation is the hardest to get, so these opportunities are great for our students. Even though we only graduate a few physics majors per year, one company employs four of our former students. Companies trust that our program produces quality employees, and they want our graduates. Our alumni help to make that connection.
The Careers Toolbox developed by SPS1 also helps us connect current students with alumni. We’ve introduced students to these career resources at several meetings and found that many are unfamiliar with opportunities to work in nonacademic settings. In the spring of 2020, we were planning to have two of our alumni who work in industry participate in a question-and-answer session during one of our meetings. We had to cancel this event due to the COVID-19 crisis, but we hope to reschedule.
Alumni can be valuable resources for advice, networking, speakers, and sometimes even astronomy equipment! Like you, they share a love of science and want to have a continued role in your chapter’s success. It’s about continuing to be part of the family formed through the SPS chapter. I encourage you to include alumni engagement in your chapter’s lasting traditions.
1. The Careers Toolbox is a set of tools and exercises designed to help undergraduate physics students prepare to enter the workforce. For details and to explore the toolbox, visit www.spsnational.org/sites/all/careerstoolbox/.
Connect with SPS Alumni from Other Institutions
To connect with physics alumni more broadly, check out the SPS Alumni Engagement Program. You can browse a database of SPS alumni to find potential speakers, tour guides, job-shadowing hosts, and mentors at spsnational.org/programs/alumni-engagement.
Behind-the-Scenes at LOCKHEED Lockheed Martin
With alumni as their guide, several members of McMurry University’s physics and astronomy department toured the Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Company plant in Fort Worth, Texas, last year. The group visited production lines for F-35 jet fighter planes, which the company makes for a dozen different countries. No photographs were allowed during the tour; shown is a group photo of McMurry’s SPS chapter from around the same time. Photo courtesy of Tikhon V. Bykov.