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Physics department declared a Top 10 degree producer

November 14, 2014

UW-River Falls was recently identified as one of the top 10 producers of physics undergraduate degrees by the American Physical Society (APS).

APS is a non-profit organization that works to advance the knowledge of physics through research journals, scientific meetings, education, outreach, advocacy and international activities.

From 2010-2012, UWRF granted 19 physics undergraduate degrees, tying it for seventh with American University (Washington D.C.) and Bethel University (St. Paul, Minnesota).

“The physics department in the past never had big numbers in terms of students, but now we are in the top quarter in terms of majors for the number of students we have,” said physics Professor James Madsen.

Madsen accredits the success of the program first to the quality of the department.

“The physics department is very successful because the faculty make it so,” said physics major Laura Lusardi. “They are extremely proactive in meeting all of the students and making sure that the students have everything they need to succeed. Whether it is offering help in classes, suggesting programs, or just sending a friendly email.”

Madsen also accredits the success to professors who recruit students to come to UWRF. Sophomore physics major Kelsey Kolell was recruited to come to UWRF from a past teacher.

“To be honest, I had never heard of River Falls when I was applying for colleges,” Kolell said. “It wasn’t until I spoke to one of my high school physics teachers about the physics programs at different UW schools that I even considered UWRF.”

Once Kolell visited the campus though, she knew this was the place for her.

“When I came up for a campus visit day, it felt like I wouldn’t be just another physics student, it was like I was joining a family.”

Physics Professor Surujhdeo Seunarine also believes the success of the department can be accredited to the focus faculty have on student’s learning, and students take note of this.

“All the professors are very open and are willing to help when you need it,” Kolell said. “They want you to succeed and to reach your goals.”

In addition to a cohesive faculty, Kolell also believes the students contribute to the success of the program.

“We work together on things we don’t understand and are able to help each other out,” Kolell said. “You are surrounded by other people that are just as nerdy and in love with science as you are.”

On average, the department awards 20 physics undergraduate degrees a year.

“We are developing a strong presence,” Madsen said. “And I’m confident we’ll continue to have good numbers.”

Two other UW System schools were also recognized on the top 10 list. UW-La Crosse was awarded number two and UW-Eau Claire was awarded number six.

“In the UW System in general, learning is a priority,” Seunarine said. “This department has really bought into the student-centered learning environment. The students benefit from this, and our reputation grows.”

Another aspect of the department that attracts potential students is the strength of the UWRF Physics Club. UWRF has the second biggest physics club in the country. The club has also been deemed as an outstanding chapter for the last 13 years from the Society of Physics Students.

“Each university can start their own club, and the only university that has a bigger club than us is Purdue University,” Madsen said.

Seunarine also believes an attraction that brings in students is hands-on, early research.

“When students visit River Falls they see things that they can relate to and get involved in,” Seunarine said.

Maden believes UWRF physics students will be successful after graduating.

“Whether the goal is to go right into the workplace or become a PhD scientist, we prepare the students,” he said.