The William Jewell College Chapter: On the Shoulders of History

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The William Jewell College Chapter: On the Shoulders of History


by Dr. Blane Baker, Professor of Physics, Sigma Pi Sigma 1986, and Megan Anderson, Executive Committee Member, Sigma Pi Sigma 2017

Visitors to the physics commons on the campus of William Jewell College, a private liberal arts college in Liberty, Missouri, often request a look at the departmental scrapbook, filled with collections of pictures and memorabilia dating to the founding of the college in 1849. Along with college history, the scrapbook has the names and pictures of all of the students and faculty who have been inducted into Sigma Pi Sigma.

Sigma Pi Sigma induction class of 1986 at William Jewell College. Dr. Blane Baker is located in the front row, second seat from the left. Photo courtesy of the Sigma Pi Sigma chapter of William Jewell College.

The founding chapter, consisting of eight student members and two faculty members, was installed on May 20, 1930. The following year, Wallace Hilton—physics faculty member from 1946 to 1983, longtime SPS and Sigma Pi Sigma advisor, and 1979 Oersted Medal winner—was inducted along with two other students from the class of 1933. Since those early days, 409 total members have been added, including the three most recent inductees in April 2019. Nobel Prize winner Walter H. Brattain became an honorary member on April 26, 1979.

Today, one of the most popular pages in the scrapbook features the Sigma Pi Sigma inductees from 1986. Current students and alumni who look closely might recognize a familiar face—current Jewell faculty member Blane Baker, who has been contributing to the department since his days as a student. As an undergraduate at Jewell, Baker majored in physics and was active in both the Society of Physics Students and Sigma Pi Sigma. He began his stint as SPS and Sigma Pi Sigma advisor in 2005, succeeding his mentor, Don Geilker, who had served as an advisor since Hilton’s retirement in 1983. Baker’s six-year tenure on the SPS National Council and his Outstanding Chapter Advisor recognition are indicative of his investment in future generations of physicists.

Baker, along with colleagues Patrick Bunton and Maggie Sherer, have continued the longstanding tradition of engaging students in undergraduate research at Jewell. Over the past three years the department and chapter have also been highly engaged in outreach to public schools. In 2018–19 the chapter received a Society of Physics Students Future Faces of Physics Award to support enrichment and after-school programs by engaging elementary school students in physics activities on waves, light and optics, and solar energy.

The department promotes physics on campus by participating in events such as homecoming and by presenting physics demonstrations and serving donuts on the college Quad—affectionately known as Demos & Donuts. Students and faculty have participated in science camps, physics demonstrations, and sustainability projects in the Texas border region, on Native American reservations in South Dakota, and in the countries of Thailand, Honduras, and Guatemala.

Each week the department hosts the Physics Minute, modeled after a similar activity started at Coe College. Students and faculty gather in the physics commons to listen to a one-minute summary of a topic in science, followed by casual conversations and ice cream. Former Sigma Pi Sigma members also regularly visit the department to reconnect and present on topics ranging from fundamental research to how the study of physics impacts career aspirations.

This Sigma Pi Sigma chapter has a rich history of scholarship, service, and fellowship, and, with a culture of engagement firmly established, should continue inspiring generations to come.
Sigma Pi Sigma members at William Jewell College today. Can you find Dr. Baker? Photo courtesy of Megan Anderson.


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