Go back

APSU physics program boasts highest enrollment in state

January 22, 2003

Despite the numerous jobs available to graduates with majors in the sciences, physics can be a tough sell. It isn't easy to convince students that mastery of a subject that deals with matter, energy, force and motion canand, in fact, often doeslead to their pick of plum jobs. Not to mention starting salaries of $50,000 to $75,000 a year.

Because the subject is a bit intimidating, most physics programs, even those at research universities, top out at around 25-30 students.
January 22, 2003

Despite the numerous jobs available to graduates with majors in the sciences, physics can be a tough sell. It isn't easy to convince students that mastery of a subject that deals with matter, energy, force and motion canand, in fact, often doeslead to their pick of plum jobs. Not to mention starting salaries of $50,000 to $75,000 a year.

Because the subject is a bit intimidating, most physics programs, even those at research universities, top out at around 25-30 students.

But one physics program has sprinted right past typical state university enrollment levels and is breathing hard on the necks of major national universities.

Austin Peay State University of Clarksville now boasts 45 students in its undergraduate physics programalmost twice the number enrolled in 2002, 16 more than any other university in the state and right up there with the top-20 in the country.

Where are all those would-be scientists coming from? Many are promising high school students, earnestly and personally recruited by Austin Peay's physics faculty.

"Our recruiting tactics have changed drastically," says Dr. Jaime Taylor, department chair and one of four physics professors at Austin Peay. "We used to sit back and let the students come to us. But now we go out and get them."

The real surprise element in the department's enrollment, however, isn't in its number of high school students. Almost half the new recruits are non-traditional students, people whose high school diplomasnot to mention their science and math knowledgeis a little dusty. But they're not letting a trivial thing like outdated math skills hold them back, Taylor says. He cites an example.

"Lori Schultz was a helicopter mechanic in the Army. She came through the developmental studies program.

"She went on to take Algebra I, Algebra II, statistics and trigonometry, all during the summer of 2002, and she earned an A in each of them. She took Calculus I and got an A. She took Calculus II and IIIboth in the falland earned A's."

One factor looms large in the recruitment of physics students young and not-so-young: the University's new Sundquist Science Complex.

"When students see it, they're in awe," Taylor says. "The multimedia classrooms. The labs. There's so much space to perform lab studies. And we took a little-used conference room and made it a student study area. Students are always in there studying together."

Taylor credits flexibility on the part of Austin Peay's administration with the program's success as well. "Instead of a secretary with a 12-month contract, we asked for a secretary/lab assistant, someone with a bachelor's degree in a science and who could help the students. The physics department was willing to make it a nine-month contract position. The administration worked with us so we could do that.

"Also, last year, we were the only program in the TBR system with no lab technician. Our administrators let us hire a laboratory manager. He's one of the hardest workers I know. We have to make him go home. And he's an incredible help to the students."

Supportive administrators, enthusiastic faculty and a model facility. Put them all together and you have a program that's bound to attract stellar students. Toss in innovative teaching and you have a program that turns out graduates whose futures are boundless.