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Inclusiveness in Physics Education January 7, 2010

Posted by Acoustics (ACOU) Section Chair in : Acoustics (ACOU) , trackback Bookmark and Share

As the national demographics project a shift towards a majority minority US population, a 7% minority representation in the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) population may be viewed as an indicator of a systemic failure. While gender-equity trends are very encouraging, those for African Americans, Hispanic Americans, and Native Americans remain stagnant.

As a member society of the American Institute of Physics (AIP), the challenges facing the acoustics community reflect those in other fields of physics. Throughout physics, as promising intellectual talent is lost to higher-compensating professions, extra emphasis should be placed on effectively nurturing those inspired by positive role models to mitigate this pipeline leakage.

Therefore, in an effort to advance the discussions from diversity to inclusion in the science of sound and noise, the Acoustical Society of America (ASA) committees on education in acoustics and diversity in acoustics:


are co-sponsoring a special session on diversity issues in acoustics education to be held at the joint ASA/Noise-Con meeting in Baltimore, Maryland:


This special session will be held at the Baltimore Marriott Waterfront (conference room Dover C) from 8:40am on Thursday April 22nd, 2010, with invited speakers intended to expose a wide range of viewpoints followed by a panel discussion to identify efforts that the AIP, and all its member and affiliated societies, should take to foster a culture of inclusiveness among their students and professional members.

The list of invited speakers include Dr. Catherine O’Riodan, Vice President of the AIP Physics Resources Center, to describe existing AIP programs to work with students and to reach the general public. Dr. Rachel Ivie, Assistant Director at the AIP Statistical Research Center, will reveal the latest statistics and trends on academic degrees and employment in acoustics. These figures will be compared against those in other scientific and engineering fields.

In a research study with the National Society of Black Physicists (NSBP) and the National Society of Hispanic Physicists (NSHP), University of Maryland psychology Professor Sharon Fries-Britt examined the perception of the interactions of underrepresented STEM students with faculty. The findings of this study indicate that their interactions with faculty in the classroom and in advising sessions are critical. When those interactions are positive, students benefit tremendously. However, in many instances, they are negative and the interactions can cause barriers to their engagement in the learning process and in how they feel about pursuing science.  Several examples will be shown of unhelpful comments and attitudes that have been experienced and that inadvertently discourage students from pursuing higher academic degrees. An awareness of sensitivities is essential in increasing their retention rate.

Dr. Theodore Hodapp, American Physical Society (APS) Director of Education and Diversity will describe a new program that aims to significantly increase the number of underrepresented members receiving doctorate degrees in physics. He will also share ideas for potential partnerships and efforts that we can take within our communities, universities and workplace.

Prof. David Bradley will describe joint efforts by the Vassar College Physics and Astronomy Department and the Bronx Institute at Lehman College to establish a hands-on, inquiry-based acoustics workshop series for urban, low-income, ethnic minority students from New York City public high schools. Since today’s iPod generation is strongly attracted to music, acoustics represents an attractive gateway into the world of physics. Therefore, the described partnership exemplifies solutions that promise to fill the physics pipeline with increasing number of qualified underrepresented students.

Dr. Daryl Chubin, Director of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Center for Advancing Science & Engineering Capacity, will focus on the legal climate for increasing participation of underrepresented groups in physics education and profession. An understanding of the legal climate is paramount to the development of effective and legally sustainable diversity and inclusion programs.

Howard Ross is one of the nation’s leading diversity training consultants and a nationally recognized expert on diversity, leadership and organizational change. Howard is past chairman of Leadership Washington and a former director of the Greater Washington Board of Trade. He also was the 2007-2008 Visiting Professor of Diversity for Bennett College for Women in Greensboro, North Carolina. In an effort to find strategies to improve the way organizations are addressing diversity, he conducted extensive research that lead to the need for three major paradigm shifts in diversity efforts:


“These include a movement from the classic United States-based approach which focuses too heavily on race and gender and an assimilation model of diversity, to one that incorporates a deep understanding of Globalism and the impact of major changes in population demographics around the world, global business, and interactive communication and networking. A shift from the “good person/bad person paradigm” of diversity which has developed and permeated a corrective mindset about diversity; a “find them and fix them” approach which escalates the “us vs. them” way that people approach the issue and makes it more, rather than less difficult to address. We have to move away from the event-based way we have approached diversity, a pattern that has given us many specific activities, but not enough emphasis on systems thinking and culture-based change, to one that is strategic, systemic, and culture-based.

The wide range of perspectives in this special session promise to feed into a lively panel discussion that harnesses the information shared by these invited speakers into solid inclusion programs for implementation by the ASA and other AIP member and affiliated societies. An open invitation is extended to attend and become part of the conversation and to the solution to this national challenge.

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