Here is the most important development in undergraduate education in the State of Florida this year: FSU’s Physics Department cited as a national model

The most important thing that any public educational institution in Florida can do is help a broad range of students from all backgrounds access the most economically robust career paths.

According to a report recently issued by a national task force jointly commissioned by the American Physical Society and the American Association of Physics Teachers, the undergraduate program in Physics at Florida State University is doing that as well as anyone.

A report published in 2015 by the Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce ranked physics 15th among bachelor’s degree fields for salary, alongside engineering, information technology and mathematical majors.  Aside from all that, physics majors are the most versatile players in the modern economy and find success in a broad range of careers like engineering, information technology, health and law.  They are, as I sometimes say (and it’s not always well-received), society’s intellectual Jedi.

The task force noted in particular – and people outside of physics or higher ed should note this well – that the Physics Department has “a focus on preparing all students for success” that has “led to a number of successful curricular interventions that prepare students for several key transitions in the major, including entrance to the major and the transition to the upper division, and support students in developing communication and computation skills within the context of the discipline.  These interventions help keep students from leaving the major and better prepare them for success. The department’s other strong focus is on student community.”

That is, we in the FSU Physics Department are making the most challenging and economically versatile college major accessible to a broad population of students and preparing those students with a wide array of hard and soft skills.

There is nobody at any college or university in Florida – private or public – doing work any more important than this.  In fact, we are providing a model that every academic department at every postsecondary institution in Florida should be emulating.

If you are reading this post, then you are almost certainly already a regular reader (that makes you special – there are only two of you).

Yet there are probably only half a dozen people in Florida outside of the FSU Physics Department who know about this distinction earned by the department.

One of them is Kathleen Haughney, who was kind enough to write a very nice press release about the report.   Thank you, Kathleen!

But there has been no recognition outside of that – and therefore the impact that the department’s success might have on policy-makers has been lost.  Given the widespread confusion among policy-makers about student learning and what it takes to educate a strong STEM professional, that is a terrible lost opportunity.

The bottom line is this:  FSU’s Physics Department is showing the state how to draw a broad population of students into an economically elite discipline, and how to prepare those students to make the widest possible positive impact on the state and nation.  The department is doing that better than any other academic unit in Florida.  Colleagues and policy-makers should be drawing lessons from our department about what works and implementing them on other campuses and in other disciplines.

But we can’t make them.


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