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Loyola receives $81K grant from NSF to enhance workforce preparedness in undergraduate physics curriculum

| By Nick Alexopulos
Bahram Roughani Loyola University Maryland
Bahram Roughani, Ph.D.

Loyola University Maryland has been awarded an $80,977 grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) for a collaborative project that will significantly enhance undergraduate physics education by developing, evaluating, and sharing methods to incorporate workforce-relevant skills and activities in the student experience.

The project, “The PIPELINE Network: Supporting the Development of Physics Innovation and Entrepreneurship Education through Institutional Engagement,” integrates the efforts of Loyola and five other institutions that received grant funding from NSF: University of Colorado Denver, Rochester Institute of Technology, Wright State University, The George Washington University, and the College of William and Mary. At the conclusion of the three-year project, PIPELINE Network schools will share materials nationally through the American Physical Society (APS).

“Incorporating workforce-relevant training into a technical discipline like physics boosts student retention and career readiness and attracts more students from groups that are historically underrepresented in STEM,” said Bahram Roughani, Ph.D., associate dean for natural and applied sciences and principal investigator on the grant. “More broadly, we now have the opportunity to work together to change the widely held perception that pursuing a physics degree limits a student’s career options.”

Roughani, who also serves on Loyola’s physics faculty, previously developed the framework for physics innovation and entrepreneurship—the essential “PIE” mindset and skills students need to succeed in the private sector. Curricular infusion of PIE is still without a firm foothold in most undergraduate physics classrooms, surprising considering a majority of undergraduate physics students in the United States find employment outside of academia. Only 22 percent go on to work in education, while 60 percent find employment elsewhere in the private sector, according to the latest data available from the American Institute of Physics. And in an October 2016 report, the Joint Task Force on Undergraduate Physics Programs recommends adding professional skills such as teamwork, communication, and basic business understanding to undergraduate physics programs to make physics graduates more successful in the workplace.

PIPELINE acknowledges the tremendous opportunity to pioneer PIE best practices among a cohesive network of practitioners. The result will be an accessible body of tested PIE curricula and assessment tools to inform the efforts of a growing community of physics educators committed to fostering students’ confidence and future career development.

“We’re addressing a compelling need, recognizing that there is a better way. It’s an approach closely aligned with Loyola’s Jesuit values,” Roughani said.

PIPELINE builds on key takeaways from Loyola’s participation in the 2015 NSF-funded Pathways to Innovation program. Randall Jones, Ph.D., associate professor of physics, is co-principal investigator on the PIPELINE grant, which was awarded through NSF’s Improving Undergraduate STEM Education program. 

Institutions in the PIPELINE Network plan to communicate and disseminate materials regularly and participate in a final conference with a larger cohort of institutions to act as the launch point for a cohesive PIE community. APS will lead the project and three institutions with strong innovation and entrepreneurship focused physics programs—Carthage College, Case Western Reserve University, and Kettering University—will serve as advisors.

More information on the PIPELINE Network project is available at aps.org.

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