UW-L leads the nation in producing physics graduates

Image of Adam Reiss speaking to a large crowd in an auditorium at UW-L.

Students, faculty, staff and community members listen to Nobel Prize Winner Adam Riess speak this past fall semester as part of the 2014 Distinguished Lecture Series in Physics. The lecture series is one of the many ways UW-L’s Physics Department attracts and retains high numbers of physics students.

UW-La Crosse is No. 1 in awarding physics degrees among bachelor’s degree granting programs in the country.

UW-L had an average of 31 physics degrees granted annually between 2011-13, making it No. 1 in the nation among bachelor’s degree granting institutions on the American Physical Society list.

The achievement comes at a time when the nation is experiencing a growing demand for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) graduates. Yet higher education is not producing enough graduates to meet the projected labor market demands, says Gubbi Sudhakaran, chair of UW-L’s Physics Department.

UW-L’s program stands out as one that is growing to meet this demand. The university attracts and retains students with a wide variety of programs, one-on-one advising, undergraduate research incorporated into the curriculum as well as thriving student organizations including the Society of Physics Students and Women in Physics.

“The quality of the education and the student-focused programs we provide to our majors are excellent,” says Sudhakaran.

Not only that, each year the department invites a Nobel Prize winning physicist to campus to meet and interact with students, faculty and staff and give a public lecture and physics seminar related to their discovery.

“We have amazing faculty, staff and students, and the faculty and staff have truly built this program into what it is today,” says UW-L Chancellor Joe Gow. “They’ve made a choice to go the extra mile.”

Other top higher education institutions on the latest list include SUNY College at Geneseo and U.S. Naval Academy, which took the second and third spots, respectively. Other UW schools on the list include UW-Eau Claire and UW-River Falls.

UW-L’s Physics program offers specialty tracks in astronomy, computational physics, optics, physics education, and biomedical and business concentrations; along with dual degree programs in physics/engineering and physics/physical therapy.

Physics graduates go on to work in a variety of careers such as engineering, computer hardware/software, research and development and education, says Sudhakaran.

Graduating high numbers is a trend

UW-L has consistently placed among the top five on the national list for graduating high numbers of physics graduates. UW-L tied for fifth place for classes graduating from 2006-08, third for classes graduating between 2008-12 and second for classes graduating between 2010-12.

Other recent UW-L Physics Department accolades:

  • In 2013, the program was awarded the American Physical Society Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Physics Education, which recognizes physics programs that support best practices in education at the undergraduate level.
  • In 2012 the program was cited by the American Institute of Physics Career Pathways Project as a model program with regard to its success in placing its graduates into STEM careers.
  • Recognition from the National Task Force on Undergraduate Education in 2003 and the 2004 Teaching Excellence Award from the UW System Board of Regents.

For the 16th year in a row, UW-L’s Physics Department will welcome a Nobel Prize Winner in physics in the fall to meet with faculty, staff and students and give a public lecture. David Gross, 2004 Nobel Laureate in Physics, will be on campus Sept. 24-25. Gross is from the University of California, Kavli Institute for Theoretical Physics, Santa Barbara.