A First-Year Experience-Based Physics Course

Funds were used to develop a new course in Physics. The new course was cross-listed as ASTR 9a,b and PHYS 9a,b. Members of underrepresented communities in physics, including students who are Hispanic or Latina/o, women, first-generation college, and/or EOP eligible were encouraged to enroll. As part of the class, graduate students, postdocs, and faculty from the Astronomy and Astrophysics and the Physics departments volunteered to supervise groups of 4-5 undergraduates on a single research project. In addition to the research projects which formed the centerpiece of the course, the full class met 1-2 times weekly for instruction from course staff on skills such as Python programming, how to construct a presentation, how to structure a research paper, how to collaborate, and how to effectively ask research design questions.

The course also provided a weekly homework center in which students practiced working on problem sets. In the Center, students worked on homework from concurrently enrolled STEM classes with help from course staff that emphasized a collaborative process, supporting student success in other STEM classes. Students gave a presentation, presented a poster, and wrote a research paper describing their work, which was revised several times with feedback. This project extended the research experiences for a subset of enrolled undergraduates into funded summer research opportunities in the Astronomy and Astrophysics and the Physics departments. The course ran in the Winter and Spring quarters of the 2016-2017 academic year, counting as 1/2 class in each quarter. The same students were enrolled in both quarters, making this one full class spread over both Winter and Spring. 

The class was a success, reaching students in the desired demographics and receiving high ratings. Enrollment was 43 students, of which 30% were Hispanic or Latina/o, 33% were women, 30% were first-generation, and 21% were EOP eligible. In all, 72% of students enrolled in the class were members of at least one of these underrepresented groups. The course concluded with a research poster fair, which was attended both by course participants and by faculty, postdocs, and graduate students from the Astronomy and Physics departments. Faculty not involved in the course expressed appreciation of the high quality of research projects conducted by students in the class.

Seven undergraduate class participants continued to complete their research projects over the summer. Of these, 43% were Hispanic or Latina/o, 29% were women, 43% were first-generation, 14% were EOP eligible, and 86% were members of at least one of these groups.  An additional eight undergraduate class participants conducted summer research in the Astronomy and Astrophysics department with funding from other sources, 63% of of these students were members of at least one underrepresented group. These statistics indicate that with funding, we have been able to extend the impact of the course to further research experiences for members of underrepresented groups at the same overall rate as course enrollment. 

Collaborators: Astronomy and Astrophysics and Physics departments, EOP

Lead Contact Name: Ruth Murray-Clay
Lead Contact Email: rmc@ucsc.edu
Theme: Transforming Classroom Pedagogy