2019–20 SPS and Sigma Pi Sigma Year in Review

Year in Review

2019–20 SPS and Sigma Pi Sigma Year in Review

Kayla Stephens and Mikayla Cleaver, SPS National Office

"Nothing in life is to be feared, it is only to be understood. Now is the time to understand more, so that we may fear less." - Marie Curie

 The 2019–20 National Council gives their best “Thumbs Up for Science” at PhysCon 2019. Photo courtesy of SPS National.

Though it began just like any other, the 2019–20 academic year unexpectedly turned into something most of us have never experienced in our lifetimes. As doors to universities, colleges, and workplaces closed around the world, SPS National continued to support the SPS community, providing opportunities in research, scholarship, outreach, leadership, and advocacy. We are so proud of the response of the SPS and Sigma Pi Sigma community, who stepped up to support one another during this difficult time. We are in this together. No matter the circumstance, #PhysicsDontStop! 

Fall 2019 began with activities to get the SPS community excited and prepared for the event of the year—November’s gathering of over a thousand physics and astronomy students, mentors, alumni, and renowned scientists. The 2019 Physics Congress, “Making Waves & Breaking Boundaries,” was held in Providence, Rhode Island, and gave attendees the opportunity to hear from luminaries in the field, tour fascinating science sites, engage in thought-provoking workshops, present scientific posters, and much more.

With the help of Sigma Pi Sigma members, SPS alumni, and the National Science Foundation, SPS dispersed approximately $70,000 in travel aid for students to attend this unique conference through PhysCon Travel and Reporter Awards, HBCU/MSI Travel Awards, and an SPS chapter video competition award.

The keystone of SPS and Sigma Pi Sigma is our community of volunteers, particularly the elected SPS National Council. This year’s SPS National Council significantly contributed to the success of the 2019 Physics Congress. Along with that huge task, the Council had many other noteworthy accomplishments, including the creation and approval of the SPS and ΣΠΣ Statement on the Climate Crisis. The Council also approved and updated the SPS and ΣΠΣ Statement on Diversity, Inclusion, Ethics, and Responsibility. To view the statements written and approved by the SPS National Council, please visit spsnational.org/about/governance/statements.

Despite the challenges, the National Council also had the pleasure of welcoming new SPS and ΣΠΣ chapters in the 2019–20 academic year.

New Sigma Pi Sigma Chapters
#583 Brown University (Zone 1)

New SPS Chapters
#6118 Saint Catherine University (Zone 11)
#7390 Troy University (Zone 6)

The spring semester was different than ever before, with a global pandemic in effect. Colleges and universities closed their doors, and many students were deeply affected by personal loss, displacement, and the move to online learning. In response to this, SPS created many virtual opportunities to promote a sense of normalcy and community, ranging from March Madness–style brackets on our social media platforms to a weekly virtual colloquium series. We also created the SPS Emergency Scholarship to help members financially affected by the COVID-19 pandemic (spsnational.org/scholarships/SPSEmergency).

As of May 15, 2020, SPS has approximately 5,500 members and 832 chapters. Usually, each of the 18 SPS zones hosts a meeting for the SPS chapters in their region to support chapter and member growth. As the majority occur in the spring, many zones rescheduled for Fall 2020 or Spring 2021, in hopes that it will be safe to gather for conferences and meetings. Other zone meetings went virtual and, with the support of the SPS National Office, alumni, and volunteers, successfully engaged attendees with invited speakers and professional development activities.

SPS saw an increase in applications for both our fall and spring awards. In the fall, 35 chapters received awards, totaling $24,333 in funding. This spring, the number of applications for SPS scholarships doubled from the previous year, making it our most competitive pool yet. SPS awarded 18 scholarships, two Outstanding Undergraduate Research Awards, and the Outstanding Chapter Advisor Award, totaling $48,700 in prizes and funding.
Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, many undergraduate summer REU and internship positions were cancelled. However, with the support of the American Institute of Physics and partner organizations such as AAPT, APS, NIST, NASA, and our friends on Capitol Hill, SPS was able to continue its summer internship program, providing opportunities to 16 SPS members. The 2020 SPS Summer Internship Program was held virtually, and activities were provided to support an enriching experience for each intern.
Last summer, the 2019 Science Outreach Catalyst Kit (SOCK) intern, Noura Ibrahim, created an astronomy-themed outreach kit that we provided FREE to SPS chapters. The SOCK utilizes desserts to demonstrate different astronomical concepts—for example, Jell-O to show how LIGO measures gravitational waves and brownies to demonstrate the formation of craters on celestial bodies. SPS still has SOCKs in stock, so request your free kit through our awards system.

lso keep an eye out for our 2020 SOCK, which will focus on acoustics in celebration of the International Year of Sound!

ΣΠΣ continues to honor outstanding scholarship in physics and service. ΣΠΣ cuts across generational and professional lines and encourages connection and excellence in the physics community. This year included 160 inductions, nearly 100 of which were held virtually due to stay-at-home orders and to ensure the safety of our community. A total of 1,060 new members were inducted into lifelong membership of ΣΠΣ across 583 chapters.

Even though this year has been unprecedented, GradSchoolShopper, the Careers Toolbox, and the Alumni Engagement Program continue to support SPS members in effectively navigating career options. These free resources guide students in connecting with SPS alumni, resume building, interview tips, and much more. They are especially important for supporting seniors as they prepare for life after graduation, whether they plan to go directly into the workforce or to pursue a graduate degree.

SPS continues to support undergraduate attendance at national meetings of professional physics societies such as AAPT, APS, OSA, AMS, AAS, and more. SPS Travel and Reporter Awards give students the opportunity to present their research or write about their experiences for the SPS community. In the 2019–20 academic year, SPS provided 27 students with a total of $9,105 in travel funding, excluding the 2019 Physics Congress. As many meetings move to virtual platforms, SPS is now also offering $75 Reporter Awards to support registration costs for virtual conferences.

This also has been a great year of disseminating the research and programmatic activities of our members, enabling them to share their voices within the physics community through our publications. We published four issues of the SPS Observer, which includes JURP, and two issues of Radiations.

SPS Observer
2019 Fall: “Toward a Culture of Inclusion”
2020 Winter: “Up Your Momentum–Take Your SPS Chapter to the Next Level”
2020 Spring: “Physics and a Climate in Crisis”
2020 Summer: Journal of Undergraduate Reports in Physics

2019 Fall: “Empowering the Next Generation of Physicists”
2020 Spring: “Reflecting on the Past, Preparing for the Future”

The 2019–20 year of SPS and ΣΠΣ embodied the mission of enriching the lives of students locally, regionally, nationally, and internationally. Although the year included moments of uncertainty, the SPS community came together and provided tools to allow members to flourish professionally, foster connections through a diverse network of physicists, and impact lives through outreach services. SPS and ΣΠΣ have worked to transform the future of physics and astronomy, and we are looking forward to what 2020–21 brings! If you are interested in continuing this legacy of opportunity and would like to donate, please visit donate.aip.org. And, of course, we hope to see you for the next Physics Congress in Washington, DC.