Physics Department wins national award

The UW-L Department of Physics received a $287,000 grant from the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction in January to offer the physical science workshops through August 2013 for teachers in the La Crosse, Tomah and Onalaska school districts. Pictured here teachers in grades 3-10 construct mini rollercoasters in a UW-L science lab with help from university faculty.

The UW-L Physics Department is one of only four universities nationwide to be recognized for improving undergraduate physics education. UW-L will be awarded the American Physical Society’s 2013 Improving Undergraduate Physics Education Award in April at the APS meeting in Denver.

The award goes to outstanding physics programs that support best practices in education at the undergraduate level.

“This award will bring our program, and the university, even more visibility at the national level,” says Gubbi Sudhakaran, chair of UW-L’s physics department. “It places UW-L alongside institutions like MIT, another 2013 recipient, in terms of the quality of student preparation.”

APS was impressed with UW-L’s revised physics curriculum at all levels using research-supported methods. UW-L’s physics curriculum offers students flexibility and has a number of specialization options. Students have opportunities to work with faculty on research projects in a variety of areas of physics. And faculty use the latest teaching methods such as active learning techniques, supported by physics education research.

Improvements to UW-L’s physics program have resulted in a significant increase in the number of physics majors, bringing this undergraduate program from the brink of elimination to one of the largest physics departments in Wisconsin. UW-L physics has also achieved national recognition for many of the department programs and it has quantifiable results with successful student graduates, notes an APS committee.

Publicity of the award will help UW-L continue to recruit quality students, says Sudhakaran. In addition, employers and graduate schools will know that students from UW-L’s program have solid preparation for their futures. The award also boosts the morale of faculty by acknowledging their hard work, notes Sudhakaran.

“The people responsible for our success are our faculty,” he says. “Everyone in the department is dedicated to delivering the best possible education to our students and this award is a testimonial that our faculty are driven by a desire to prepare students for the challenges ahead.”

2013 Improving Undergraduate Physics Education Awardees

  • Colorado School of Mines
  • Kettering University
  • UW-La Crosse
  • Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)