April 2022: Alice Olmstead
Texas State University, San Marcos, Texas
- Member since 2015
- Assistant Professor
- San Marcos, Texas
I first became interested in physics as an outlet for my love of math and a way to pursue my interest in astronomy. I had an excellent high school physics teacher who gave me opportunities to build up my physics knowledge after taking her course and encouraged me to follow that path. After completing my undergraduate degree in physics and astronomy, I felt that something important was missing and wanted to figure out how to give back to others through my career. In the middle of graduate school, I started to build up my teaching experience and skills and ultimately changed my focus to be physics/astronomy education. I began pursuing research on change strategies used to improve undergraduate physics and astronomy instruction and, later, change strategies across undergraduate STEM. I am now able to teach physics and engage in physics/STEM education research in my current position.
I have been involved in AAPT since about 2014, when I switched to physics/astronomy education research. My advisors and peers encouraged me to start regularly attending AAPT meetings, where I met folks from other institutions who had similar goals and interests. Several of my close collaborators and close friends are AAPT members, and I have hired postdocs and have been hired in part through my AAPT network. The relationships I have built with other AAPT members are extremely valuable to me personally and professionally. I am grateful to have connected with these amazing and inspirational people.
I have tried to contribute positively to physics education in a few ways. First, as mentioned earlier, I have been seeking to identify and unpack effective change strategies that support improvements to undergraduate STEM education through my research and sharing the results. At earlier points in my career, I looked at examples in physics and astronomy specifically (e.g., Physics and Astronomy New Faculty Workshop and the Living Physics Portal), while my current research looks at instructional change teams across undergraduate STEM. Second, I have become deeply invested in supporting undergraduate peer educators (Learning Assistants or LAs) and other faculty in improving STEM courses at my home institution. I am the co-director of the Physics LA program and the programmatic co-lead on the Faculty-Student STEM Communities Project, a 5-year, NSF-funded effort to support student-centered STEM instructional change by creating instructional communities at Texas State. Third, I have been teaching physics courses at Texas State. Along the way, I have been investigating ways to incorporate ethics, physics, and social topics into these types of courses. My role in this has primarily been to design and implement curricula and support my colleagues (including student collaborators) in researching the results.
My favorite thing about teaching physics is getting to implement new activities and assignments that help students reason about physics, ethics, and society and illuminate connections between physics and society generally. I have learned a lot through the process and continue to learn more each time I teach. My students are excited to learn about, discuss physics and society connections, and continually motivate me to continue improving in this way. I also very much enjoy building positive relationships with students and helping them to develop skills and knowledge that can enable them to be successful in their careers.