Northwestern one of nine universities in nation to receive grant for physics area

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Northwestern one of nine universities in nation to receive grant for physics area

Northwestern Oklahoma State University’s Department of Natural Science recently received a grant from PhysTEC, an organization designed to improve and promote the education of future physics teachers.

Northwestern was one of nine universities nationwide chosen to receive the grant with the goal of establishing a group of institutions focused solely on developing successful recruiting strategies that can be implemented in a wide variety of institutions, especially those with bachelor’s-granting physics departments.

The request for proposal process began in May 2014, and the sites were required to submit full proposals in June.  The proposals were then reviewed with Northwestern receiving one of the spots. Funding began in September 2014.

Dr. Steven Maier, professor of physics and chair of the Department of Natural Science, worked with Dr. Jenny Sattler, assistant professor of physics, in writing the grant proposal.

“Originally, we were planning to write the grant for only Northwestern, but we soon recognized that the high school physics teacher shortage in Oklahoma is a multi-institution issue,” Maier said. “While nationally, the number of students enrolling in high school physics is increasing, the number is decreasing in Oklahoma.  The number of districts offering high school physics in Oklahoma is also decreasing.  In fact, in any given year, there are at least 10 counties in Oklahoma where no physics is offered in a public school district.  

“So, we reached out to all of the Oklahoma PhysTEC institutions and established a collaborative.  This way we could share resources and learn from one another: what works, what doesn’t, etc., when it comes to recruiting and graduating physics teachers.  At least one representative from each institution co-authored the proposal; it was truly a team effort!”

The grant includes collaboration with East Central University, Oklahoma State University, and Southwestern Oklahoma State University with Northwestern as the lead Oklahoma PhysTEC university.

“We’ve already collaborated with the other institutions in the decision-making process regarding recruitment materials,” Maier said.  “An undergraduate student at ECU, for example, developed the first version of the OK PhysTEC recruitment brochure.  Dr. Sattler and I attended the Women in Science conference with Dr. Kristen Baum and Dr. Angle from OSU.  Dr. Bruce Ackerson from OSU and Dr. Karen Williams of ECU attended the Oklahoma Science Teachers Association to disseminate information about our programs.  For the current semester and for future years, we hope to establish a regular presence at departmental colloquia—pitching physics education to physics departments that traditionally primarily put effort into preparing students for graduate or engineering programs.”

Beginning in the 2015-16 school year, Northwestern will offer certification in three areas: high school biology, high school chemistry and high school physics, with class requirements being based on models of other successful PhysTEC programs.  The grant also will be used for promotional materials and site visits to junior and senior high students to promote high school science teaching as an important and rewarding career.  Before, the only pre-service science degree offered at Northwestern was biology, so this grant is helping the university to add the two additional pathways without increasing costs to the school.

For more information on PhysTEC visit www.phystech.org.  For information on the grant or the Department of Natural Science at Northwestern, contact Maier at (580) 327-8562 or by email at sjmaier@nwosu.edu.

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