Physics Initiative Launches at Colgate

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By 2022, it is projected that New York State will have a shortage of 10,000 teachers. To help address the deficit, two Colgate University professors have been tasked with building and enhancing the institution’s high school physics teacher education program.

Meg Gardner, senior lecturer in educational studies and director of the teacher education program, and Beth Parks, associate professor of physics and astronomy, were named Physics Teacher Education Coalition (PhysTEC) Fellows on June 3, 2019. PhysTEC encourages and enriches the education of future physics teachers.

Parks suggests that the potential scarcity of physics teachers raises issues of equity. “This means that only the best-funded schools would have qualified physics teachers,” she said. “Through our PhysTEC partnership, we can help ensure that schools in all communities have certified, passionate science educators.”

Gardner and Parks plan on publicizing certification opportunities for physics and astronomy undergraduates while working with the New York State Education Department to streamline course requirements for these certifications.

“We’re trying to heighten awareness on campus that this is a fantastic profession that really touches the lives of students,” Gardner said. “Our goals for the PhysTEC partnership are to organize recruitment efforts and show physics majors that this is a viable, vibrant career path.”

In recent years, Colgate University’s Department of Physics and Astronomy has experienced significant growth, producing a twofold increase in its average number of graduates. In addition to its master of arts in teaching degree for graduate students, Colgate offers an elementary teaching certification program, as well as a secondary teaching certification program. Colgate also extends a tuition-free ninth semester option to students to complete their teacher certification requirements.

Gardner takes pride in the opportunities granted to students. “We’re fortunate that our institution sees value in teaching, and offsets costs for students,” she said. “We have many wonderful resources here — not to mention a dedicated group of faculty who are willing to mentor students and offer insight.”

Gardner and Parks aim to unify efforts between the Department of Physics and Astronomy and the Department of Educational Studies. They believe that faculty attendance at professional events will cultivate an understanding as to how other institutions are promoting the initiative.

“We would be delighted if our strongest students decided to become physics teachers,” Parks noted.