Volume 97 Issue 5 News

Focus on engineering as demand rises

by Klaus-Peter Profus

Faculty and students in Juniata’s physics department are interviewing candidates for an additional full-time position this spring semester. Because the demand for engineering physics has risen, the department is looking to enhance their abilities in the field.

“When Jamie White, who is the department head right now, and I came here (in 1998) we had one graduating senior and about 14 majors altogether. So we’ve built the program up over the last years, and now we have about 55 majors. We have the general physics course, which most people take in their junior year, grow to 85 students now, and I think it is by far the largest junior-level required course on campus,” said Jim Borgardt, associate professor of physics.

According to the department’s 2015 formal request, “There has been a long-term consensus, externally by outside reviewers and internally by the administration, that the department is demonstrably understaffed. The addition of a fourth tenure track position to the department is necessary in order to meet the needs of our physics and engineering physics students and improve the department’s status among our peer and aspirant institutions.”

Addressing the rising demand in engineering physics, senior Teresa Turmanian said, “(Engineering) applies physics to solving practical problems, and I think there is always going to be a lot of demand for that kind of skill. I think that Juniata has recognized that there is an increasing number of students who want to pursue the more applied side of physics but still do so in a small college environment.”

“There are more students who want to go into engineering now because it is seen as a more solid, applied physics path with more job security. We are looking to hire someone with more engineering experience because the three of us who are here as tenure track faculty are all in traditional physics,” said Borgardt.

Students interested in engineering can take part in the 3-2 engineering program, which allows them to specialize at an affiliated college. Borgardt said, “You take three years here and then you go to an affiliated college. The four places that students can go to are Penn State, Clarkson University, Columbia (or) Washington University in St. Louis. Your first year at the second school transfers back here and your credits here transfer up there so that you have two degrees after five years, one in engineering physics here and then another one in whatever area you are interested in at that second school.”

Addressing compatibility issues of Juniata’s engineering program, senior Bradley Spayd said, “Our engineering physics program is not an accredited degree program. So perhaps having an engineering professor who could teach a couple of upper-level engineering courses might lead to a certification as an actual engineering degree.”

Since hiring a new professor is going to affect physics students, the department decided to involve the students in the interviewing process. “They have the candidate come into the lounge and then we can talk to them and ask them questions, which I think is really cool. All physics students are invited and quite a few come,” said senior Mara Zimmerman.

Senior Ryan Gabriel said, “A few (students) go to lunch with them, then the interviewee comes in and does a seminar talk, basically a one-hour presentation of what they studied and what they want to do. After that, we go to the lounge with snacks and drinks and talk to them.”

Turmanian said, “I am really pleased that the physics department is allowing us to have such an active role in determining who is going to be our professor because at the end of the day we are the ones that have to learn from them, so if we have a lot of input I think that only translates into better experiences for future students.”

“It was really exciting to talk to some prospective faculty and see what they’d be like and hear what they would be able to bring to the campus. The one who did come has a background in electrical engineering and was showing us all these labs that she wanted to bring in, like ‘build your own touchscreen,’ which seemed like a really cool thing to do in a lab,” said senior Kate Lorenzen.

Despite physics being a male-dominated discipline, some of the candidates for the position are female. Spayd said, “I think it would be wonderful to have a female physics professor. It would help the women that are in our department knowing that there is somebody who went through all of that and had to overcome some adversities to get there.”

“Having a female professor to be a role model would definitely be a plus. I think a lot of women in physics feel not only personal weight to succeed for themselves, but that they have to succeed for the sake of other women, which puts a lot of pressure on them. However, we should pick the person who we feel is the most qualified and the most skilled teacher regardless of their gender. Yet, if (the professor) happens to be a woman I would be all for it,” said Turmanian.

To have the new position filled for the spring semester, interviews are nearly complete. Borgardt said, “We plan to tie things up before Christmas and make an offer and things like that. We are looking forward to have a new person on board and have a few more diverse offerings for students. Talking to the people in the interviews they have a lot of interesting ideas so that hopefully we’ll have a couple of more options to roll out next year.”

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