BGSU named a Bridge Program partner for physics

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By Julie Carle

BGSU’s physics program has a new partnership designed to help address the nation’s challenge of producing a generation of diverse scientific leaders.

The University has been designated a Partner Institution in the American Physical Society (APS) Bridge Program, which has a goal to increase the number of underrepresented minorities earning doctoral degrees in physics over the next 10 years. The Bridge Program facilitates student transitions from undergraduate degree programs to graduate school.

Participation in this national program will also create increased visibility for the BGSU program and help domestic recruiting efforts, said Dr. John Laird, chair of the Department of Physics and Astronomy.

“This is an important step for the field of physics,” Laird said, “and BGSU has a role to play.”

At issue is physics’ ranking at the bottom of science disciplines in degrees earned by the growing minority population in the United States. According to APS figures, underrepresented minorities make up about a third of the college-age U.S. citizens, yet fewer than 10 percent of physics bachelor degrees are awarded to all of these groups combined. The situation at the doctoral level is even bleaker, with only about 6 percent of doctoral degrees granted to underrepresented minorities.

Currently, only about 30-35 doctoral degrees in physics are granted to this population every year nationwide (U.S. citizens or permanent residents). These small numbers allow the Bridge Program to have a significant and measurable impact on this national issue.

The process to be named a partner institution includes a site visit by the APS to ensure the university offers a quality program and that the students are well supported.

“We do pay close attention to our students,” Laird said. “We make sure our students don’t get lost in the noise.

“We work hard to keep students involved. Our offices are down the hall; our faculty, including our graduate coordinator, Dr. Lewis Fulcher, notice what is going on with our master’s students. That is part of our culture at BGSU and in our department.”

For BGSU, being listed on the APS site as a Bridge Program partner increases the University’s visibility and raises its profile for anyone who is looking into physics graduate programs. Though BGSU does not have a doctoral program in physics, it does offer the intermediary master’s program to prepare students for doctoral programs or the workforce, Laird said.

BGSU’s physics master’s students have the opportunity to transition into a cooperative Ph.D. program with the University of Toledo. Most of the program’s graduates enter Ph.D. programs at other institutions.

“Strong research programs in the department focus on materials science, computational physics and astronomy,” Laird said. “Our rigorous core courses are at a high level, and in most cases our graduates entering Ph.D. programs can receive credit for the courses they have taken at Bowling Green.”

As of May 1 each year, APS provides names of prospective students who are in the program to BGSU and the other Partnership Institutions. “We are allowed to approach them and actively recruit them,” he said.

With the goal of increasing numbers in the master’s program here, the University and the College of Arts and Sciences have been very supportive in seeking this partnership, Laird said.