UT Physics and Astronomy Department recognized for female graduation rates

November 13, 2014 | News, UToday, Natural Sciences and Mathematics
By Lindsay Mahaney

According to the American Physical Society, less than 20 percent of undergraduate physics majors nationwide are women. But at The University of Toledo, those numbers are significantly higher.

In a recent statistics analysis conducted by the society, The University of Toledo Department of Physics and Astronomy was ranked sixth in the nation among PhD-granting institutions for the highest percentage of women earning physics undergraduate degrees.

“I’m very happy to see these results,” said Dr. Karen Bjorkman, Distinguished University Professor and dean of the College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics. “I hope that we continue to push in this direction because I think it’s very important to our field. It is important to open up excellent career opportunities for our women students.”

Bjorkman said that the study is done to give feedback and statistics to professional organizations and to universities on their progress.

“One of the issues that we have, especially in the physical sciences, is a low percentage of women and minorities in these areas,” she said. “We’re trying to work toward greater diversity in the field.”

The analysis stated that 47 percent of UT’s undergraduate physics degrees from 2010 to 2012 were received by women.

The increase in women studying physics and astrophysics is a topic that Bjorkman said she holds close to her heart because of her own work as a physicist. She said that the University is working to further increase the number of females and minorities earning physics — and other science — degrees.

“We stress undergraduate research in this college and try to get students involved with research early,” she said. “I think that’s a real benefit to all our students, but women in particular benefit because they get the opportunity to connect more individually to their professors and their research projects. It gets them excited about what they’re doing, and gives them a sense of being part of the community, which helps them engage with the field.”

There is also a highly competitive summer program called Research Experiences for Undergraduates, funded by the National Science Foundation, that is open to students across the country and that UT students often apply for, according to Bjorkman. This encourages enthusiasm in the field of physics.

“I think all of those things together: trying to make better connections with students in the department, trying to engage them in what we’re doing and get them excited about it, I think all of that helps,” she said. “I’m delighted to see the numbers are steadily increasing.”

The American Physical Society is a nonprofit membership organization that works to advance the physics field through research, education, outreach advocacy and international activities. It has more than 50,000 members from all realms of the physics field, including physicists in academia, laboratories and industry.

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