The Patuxent Partnership invested $1 million to grow and expand the physics department, including applied physics, at the College.
Spring semester 2012 was marked by the tremendous support for academics by longtime community partner, The Patuxent Partnership (TPP). In May, TPP invested $1 million to grow and expand the physics department, including applied physics, at the College. The Patuxent Partnership is a local nonprofit organization that works with government, industry, and academia on initiatives in science and technology.
Bonnie Green ’74, executive director of The Patuxent Partnership, has been a strong advocate for developing this initiative as a way of fulfilling St. Mary’s promise as the state’s honors college, and addressing the region’s need for scientifically trained professionals. Green said, “The Partnership’s mission is to support STEM education, the Navy and the contractor community, and to foster related research opportunities. This investment will develop and strengthen the knowledge base in our region while strengthening the relationship between St. Mary’s College of Maryland, the Naval Air Warfare Center Aircraft Division (NAWCAD) at Patuxent River Naval Air Station, and applied physics research.” The funds will be used to develop curriculum, increase the number of physics majors, hire a new faculty member, expand labs, and develop new co-operative and internship programs.
“The leadership commitment from Green, TPP’s Board of Directors, and Karen Garner ’82, board of directors president, is emblematic of our institutional priorities: embracing our public mission and academic rigor, meeting the immediate needs that are central to our faculty and liberal arts curriculum, and providing transformative opportunities for students,” said Maureen Silva, vice president for advancement. “The mutual benefit that stems from sharing talent and resources will have a huge impact on the region as well.”
St. Mary’s College is fortunate to have a long, successful and growing relationship with the Department of Defense community, and continues to benefit from these collaborative ties. For example, the Computer Science Co-Operative Education Program, established in 1996, engages outstanding students in computer science studies and summer work experiences. Also, Dr. Chuck Alder, professor of physics, and Dr. Josh Grossman, associate professor of physics, work closely with Dr. Frank Narducci, their colleague at NAWCAD, on research in atomic physics for developing sensor technologies with anti-submarine warfare applications and secure quantum communication technologies; St. Mary’s students participate in and contribute to this collaboration in a variety of ways. Since 2003, 19 physics students have completed summer internships with the NAWCAD research lab, and 20 physics students have conducted cutting-edge research in the lab for their St. Mary’s Projects. A proponent of STEM education and outreach, Dr. Narducci – whose daughter, Victoria, is studying at St. Mary’s – has been instrumental in exposing St. Mary’s students to state-of-the-art resources, research projects, mentoring, internships, and professional development opportunities as well as articulating the impact of an applied physics program at St.Mary’s.
In addition to these partnerships, St. Mary’s College developed other programs that aim to recruit and retain STEM students, including the Women in Science House (WiSH) and the Emerging Scholars Program which are both designed to boost numbers in STEM disciplines with attention to under-represented groups. As a result, 25% of St. Mary’s students are pursuing a degree in STEM at any given time.
TPP’s investment in the physics department will nearly double the number of physics graduates to twelve, which would propel the College to the top 5% of four-year colleges in the United States. “Most college physics programs are geared to students who will go on to graduate study in physics, and ignore that over half of all graduates, in fact, do not,” said Adler. “According to a study by the American Physical Society, one of the key elements of successful physics programs is diversity.” Offering such a rare opportunity for students to concentrate in applied physics while exploring different disciplines and achieving competency in the fundamental liberal arts skills will give students problem solving skills, as well as excellent writing and oral communication skills, on top of their technical training.
With The Patuxent Partnership’s $1 million investment – and the signing of the Educational Partnership Agreement between the College, NAWCAD and The Patuxent Partnership in October 2011 – the College is poised to develop and become one of the few undergraduate liberal arts colleges in the country with an applied physics program. “Our students tend to be multi-talented and multi-interested, and approach problems with creativity and passion,” said Pat Goldsmith, dean of admissions. “The admissions staff has been working with the physics department throughout the summer to identify dedicated, innovative prospective students interested in pursuing STEM majors in the context of a liberal arts education. The applied physics major gives us a unique niche in the marketplace, and we are excited to see the talented students this program will attract.”
A learning atmosphere that is enriched by a variety of experiences and perspectives ensures that our students are well-prepared as they go out into the world. Significant investments in the College help St. Mary’s to recruit and retain students and faculty, and to sustain a prolific environment for learning. According to President Joe Urgo, “We are grateful for The Patuxent Partnership’s investment that so directly supports the public mission and academic rigor of St. Mary’s College of Maryland. The establishment of an applied physics program will provide new and unique opportunities for our campus, and a gateway to a world in need of individuals who have cultivated their capacity to think, to discern, and to respond to issues with creativity and passion.”