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Nicholas Rui, SPS Chapter President, and Yonna Kim, Projects Co-Coordinator, University of California, Berkeley

On a weekday, the University of California, Berkeley’s LeConte Hall is a vibrant hive of physics students. Outside of class, they gather to discuss physics problems with enthusiastic peers in LeConte’s Reading Room, a front-and-center glass enclosure full of chalkboards and the occasional leftover pizza from an SPS faculty-student lunch. Between lectures (and sometimes at 2 a.m.), students stop and grab food at the Snack Shack in Room 184, headquarters for Berkeley’s chapter of the Society of Physics Students and a popular undergraduate resource in the department.

The department comes to a standstill at 5 p.m. on Fridays—zero hour for turning in physics problem sets and also when a welcome chime from the Campanile tower ushers in some well-earned weekend relaxation. All’s quiet on the western front until a new week dawns, and with it a new, unique set of deadlines and exams.

A group unified by curiosity about the universe and a love for ice cream sandwiches, the Berkeley SPS chapter makes it a priority to complement the school’s academic rigor with an emphasis on health, inclusion, and community.

SPS co-vice president Erika Hathaway (front, left) and Carter Turnbaugh (front, right) out for a wholesome lunch with their mentorship group.Last spring, we invited members of the Department of Nutritional Science and Toxicology to a weekly SPS meeting to discuss healthy eating habits. Along with hummus, carrots, and a stack of quick and healthy recipes, Miyuko Niwa and Jessie Lan shared accessible strategies for eating healthfully on a budget and under prohibitive time constraints.

For the 2019–20 academic year, we’ve extended our advocacy of healthy living through biweekly “DeStress with SPS” meetings (sagely scheduled after 5 p.m. on Fridays), organized by project co-chair Yonna Kim. De-stressing activities vary from playing Frisbee and soccer together in the glow of the setting sun to painting majestic mountain landscapes while following Bob Ross’s soothing instructions.

SPS members enjoy a Friday afternoon DeStress with SPS event.As students’ well-being depends on mental health, our SPS chapter encourages students to be supportive of each other and of themselves. To this end, 2018–19 co-president Mayia Vranas spearheaded an initiative to spread awareness of imposter syndrome—a general feeling that one is a fake or a fraud—through a workshop that detailed the all-too-common experience and addressed effective ways to combat it.

During another general SPS meeting, members from the Society of Women in the Physical Sciences (SWPS) detailed the history of women in STEM and ways in which people can help make fields such as physics more open and inclusive. Both the imposter syndrome and SWPS presentations were praised across the undergraduate population for their accuracy and boldness in tackling difficult subjects that aren’t common discourse in physics departments.

SPS outreach coordinator Charlie Cummings (left) assists a freshman student during 5A Study Hall. Photos courtesy of the University of California, Berkeley’s SPS chapter.The care with which our SPS chapter fosters community and inclusivity extends to freshmen and new transfer students as well. Throughout the years, the Berkeley SPS mentorship program has connected upper-division students with freshmen and new transfers in part by organizing fun teambuilding exercises such as a department-wide scavenger hunt.

This year, the program received a dramatic overhaul championed by co-secretary Aini Xu. The new program matches groups of 3–4 mentees with pairs of mentors and is accompanied by Physics 5A Study Hall, a study time hosted by SPS outreach coordinator Charlie Cummings, with departmental support intended to guide freshmen through Physics 5A, the first intended lower division physics class at Berkeley.

The study hall has already seen immense success, with participating students often moving to the Reading Room afterward to continue fruitful physics discussions with newfound friends. The mentorship program and 5A Study Hall have proven to be invaluable introductions to the physics department for new students.

Each fall semester comes to a close with a “secret Schrödinger” gift exchange, the spring semester with a festive SPS promenade. Then the weekly grind comes to a temporary halt, followed by the respective winter and summer recesses. These breaks mark much-needed respites from a demanding academic curriculum—breaks made bittersweet by the SPS friends heading their separate ways for a season.

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