What Works

What is Needed for Undergraduate Physics Revitalization, and How Do We Know What Works?

Over the past three years, AAPT, APS, and AIP have taken some first steps to address these issues. As a result of the Physics Department Chairs Conferences in May 1997 and April 2000 (both of which focused on undergraduate physics) and the October 1998 conference "Building Undergraduate Physics Programs for the 21st Century," and extensive discussion with a wide spectrum of physicists, four key features of successful undergraduate physics revitalization can be identified:

  1. There is wide recognition and interest in undergraduate revitalization from all kinds of physics departments and indeed from a wide spectrum of the entire physics community. But not by all. We still need lots of persuasion and discussion both within individual departments and in the physics community at large.
  2. The fundamental element for change is the department. Real change in undergraduate physics programs demands the support of college and university administrators, but unless a significant number of the department's faculty, including the chair, buy into the effort, any changes are likely to evaporate quickly.
  3. An Undergraduate Physics Program is more than just the curriculum. An undergraduate physics program is not just pedagogy and courses. Physics departments also need to consider such activities as recruiting able students, mentoring physics students, providing courses appropriate for pre-service K-12 teachers, assisting with professional development for a diversity of physics careers, providing opportunities for undergraduates to participate in research, and making connections with the local industries and businesses that employ graduates.
  4. Effective change is local. Physics departments have varying missions, sizes, geographical locations and types of students. A one-size program will not fit all.