Meet the 2021 SPS Outstanding Chapter Advisor: Donna Hammer

Share This:



Singularities - Profiles in Physics

Meet the 2021 SPS Outstanding Chapter Advisor: Donna Hammer


Kendra Redmond, Editor

The SPS Outstanding Chapter Advisor Award is the most prestigious award given by SPS, bestowed annually on the basis of the leadership, student leadership development, support, and encouragement the advisor has provided to the chapter. For her leadership and guidance of the SPS chapter at the University of Maryland, College Park (UMD), Donna Hammer is the 2020–21 SPS Outstanding Chapter Advisor.

Donna Hammer is director of education for the physics department at UMD, which includes a variety of diverse roles. From organizing physics conferences to developing seminar classes, from recruiting new majors to hosting summer programs for K-12 students, she’s always on the move and always working on something new. The one constant: it’s all about students.

Donna Hammer (farthest left) with members of the UMD chapter at the 2019 Physics Congress.

With 350 physics majors, UMD’s physics program is among the largest in the US. One of Hammer’s driving principles is to make sure that each student feels welcomed and supported, whether that means creating a physics boot camp for incoming majors, mentoring students through personal challenges, addressing issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion in physics, or empowering students in her role as advisor for SPS and the other student groups in the department.

“SPS has been a huge boost for community building in the department,” Hammer says. “The members are a dedicated group. They do all kinds of innovative activities that bring the department together.” This includes their legendary donut sales, outreach events, social activities, mentoring, and tutoring services, among other activities. “The tutoring room is the best place to go,” says Hammer. “You can look out at all of these students working in groups, and SPS has organized it all.”

While Hammer gives the credit to the students, the students credit her passion, dedication, and guidance for their success. “It was Donna’s contagious enthusiasm that convinced me to join SPS and get involved in research,” explains the student who nominated Hammer. “Since then, I have witnessed both the extraordinary amount of work Donna contributes to SPS as well as her profound effectiveness in mentoring students, including myself.”

When classes suddenly shifted online in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it was still all about the students. Hammer was in the office from day one, helping chart a course forward and supporting physics students through unimaginable challenges and isolation. Now that the campus has reopened, she’s looking ahead to teaching a new seminar on diversity, equity, and inclusion that she codeveloped, hosting a summer full of physics camps, and restarting some of the projects that went on hiatus during the pandemic. Yet, somehow, she always has time to check in with students and make sure their needs are being met.

As an SPS advisor, she’s most proud of the UMD chapter’s consistent Outstanding SPS Chapter Awards (eight years in a row!) and their impact on the department. “We have a physics undergraduate research showcase and research fair each year, and SPS has a big role in those events. I’m really proud that we were able to institutionalize, through SPS, those department activities,” Hammer says.

Hammer’s enthusiasm for her students, her job, and the field of physics is clear. "It's very important that the physics community continues to grow and address inequities. There are questions to answer, problems to solve, and exciting research and career opportunities to pursue for all students with the passion for physics,” she says.

Donna Hammer (farthest left) with members of the UMD chapter at the 2019 Physics Congress.

Outstanding Advice for Advisors
“Really listen to the students—each group of SPS leaders has a different mission. To help them meet their goals, build them up in the areas where they feel they can make the biggest contribution to the community, where they can shine.”
- Donna Hammer, SPS Outstanding Chapter Advisor

More from this department

Singularities - Profiles in Physics