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Alina Gearba-Sell, PhD, President of the Society of Physics Students 2017–21 and Professor, Department of Physics, United States Air Force Academy
When I was asked to write this letter and reflect on my four years of service as president of the Society of Physics Students, I couldn’t help but think of the unprecedented times we live in and the words of author Gregory S. Williams: “On the other side of a storm is the strength that comes from having navigated through it. Raise your sail and begin.”
The academic community, the lives of our members, both students and faculty, and the lives of those around us have been profoundly and forever impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. We transitioned to remote learning in the blink of an eye, and one year later, many of us are still learning or teaching remotely.
Students everywhere found themselves adjusting to online courses, making sense of virtual labs, and dealing with canceled summer internships and the loss of campus jobs. Others found themselves without the comfort of a physics lounge for late-night quantum homework or the opportunity to walk into a professor’s office for help with E&M or advice on graduate school. Other students had to come up with creative ways to access the internet and attend remote courses. Faculty had to become familiar with various online teaching platforms and find innovative ways to keep their students motivated by addressing their individual needs, while at the same time having to keep their own children engaged with virtual learning.
SPS has had to adapt as well in order to navigate these unexplored waters while staying true to its mission of providing local chapters with resources to build and maintain an inclusive community with a strong sense of belonging. We put together a list of remote learning resources for students and faculty, compiled a collection of COVID-friendly ideas for chapter activities, and started a virtual colloquium series, just to name a few of the new resources. In addition, we hosted our acclaimed SPS summer internship program, albeit virtually, and most importantly, we helped many physics students whose financial situations were negatively impacted by COVID via the SPS Emergency Scholarship program.
Traditionally, at the end of the academic year, many departments recognize the accomplishments of their physics majors by inviting them to join Sigma Pi Sigma, the physics honor society. I encourage you to make this year’s induction extra special by recognizing those who have made a difference in your chapter’s life with an SPS Outstanding Service Award or a Sigma Pi Sigma Outstanding Service Award. Inviting your alumni or one of us in the SPS National Council to virtually celebrate with you is another way to stay connected with the community.
Finally, as we look forward to brighter days ahead, please mark your calendars. The next Physics Congress will be held in Washington, DC, October 6–8, 2022. Its theme, “100 Years of Momentum,” is appropriately chosen to celebrate the centennial of Sigma Pi Sigma. While we had to delay the congress for one year due to the pandemic, we promise that the wait will be worthwhile. The planning committee is putting together an amazing program aimed at engaging and inspiring physics undergraduates for the next 100 years. For details, visit sigmapisigma.org/sigmapisigma/congress/2022.
Until then, stay strong, support each other, and do not hesitate to reach out to the SPS National Council if there is anything we can do to help you thrive in your academic pursuits.