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May 8, 2013
Women in Physics, a new CSU student organization, has been expanding their impact on campus through encouraging collaboration among female students in the hard sciences.
WiP founders and graduating seniors, Olivia Hanna and Valerie Jacobson, began the group in 2012 to provide support for female undergraduate physics majors. Since then, the group has focused on empowering both female and male students by providing professional development, community outreach, and mentoring.
According to the American Physical Society, the ratio of women to men in the hard sciences is disproportionately low compared to society’s demographical distribution. Jacobson and Hanna decided that establishing a support group at a local level would provide an opportunity for physics undergraduates to share their experiences and passion. “We were talking about feeling like there weren't many women in the department and that some kind of encouraging support group might be a good idea,” said Jacobson.
WiP’s presence is felt throughout the campus and local community. In their first year, the group created an annual award for the Colorado State Science and Engineering Fair that is given to a middle or high school female participant who shows promise in the physical sciences. Members attended the CSEF, helped to judge the posters, and selected a recipient for their award. This February, members volunteered for the Little Shop of Physics Open House, helping local children to experience hands-on science demonstrations. WiP also hosted a “Women in STEM” panel discussion for Getting to Year 2 at CSU, aimed to answer questions about succeeding as a female science major at CSU. They have also formed study groups, hosted social dinners, attended national conferences, and had monthly guest speakers at their meetings.
Mentoring is an important part of WiP. Students encourage each other during meetings as well as outside of group activities. They also engage with alumni, graduate students, and faculty. Katherine Zaunbrecher, a fifth-year graduate student in the department, enthusiastically took on the role of co-adviser when the group was formed. “This is a wonderful chance to share my experiences, encourage growth, and build a stronger community within the Physics department. I love this opportunity and I love these girls,” says Zaunbrecher. Many of the WiP members also participate in research in the Physics department, providing them with the opportunity to interact with faculty and graduate students.
Fundamental to the group, members are afforded many professional development opportunities. Several successful women scientists have spoken at group meetings, including Patricia Rankin, associate vice chancellor for Research and physics professor at University of Colorado, CSU Chemistry professors Amy Prieto and Nancy Levinger, and CSU alumna Christine Nattrass, who is now an assistant professor at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville. Members of WiP have also attended and presented their research at local and national conferences, including the Conference for Undergraduate Women in Physics at Colorado School of Mines. Additionally, this year, Valerie Jacobson received an honorable mention for her poster presented at the 2012 Quadrennial Physic Congress hosted by Sigma Pi Sigma, the APS honor society, in Orlando, Fla.
In commenting on WiP’s success, Hanna said, “WiP started off small, but with the support of the department and peers, it has grown into something I never dreamed it could be! I am excited to see the possibilities the impact WiP will have on future students.” If WiP is more than its founders expected it to be, it is because they started with a clear goal and many small steps toward achieving a support network for science students, and they have achieved much more than what they set out to accomplish.
Contact: Katherine Zaunbrecher