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Building Community through Service
Letters and Feedback
Building Community through Service
Blane Baker, Sigma Pi Sigma President and Professor of Physics, William Jewell College
As your incoming president, one of the common themes that I have heard recently is that campuses have become less active and more disengaged since March 2020—mainly due to the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. As an educator for more than 25 years, I agree. While the shutdowns and limited interactions were necessary, I missed face-to-face communication with students and casual conversations with colleagues. I also missed talking in person with groups of schoolkids and local organizations. I, along with you, have felt the loss of personal interactions. Now, with the lifting of many restrictions, campus culture is beginning to return—but we have much work to do. How do we reengage our departments, campuses, and commuities?
Service is one of the most natural ways to develop camaraderie and build community. There are many reasons to serve. We engage with others because we are passionate about physics and astronomy, and we want to share that excitement and enthusiasm. We enjoy interacting with others and sharing our knowledge (and learning new things in the process). We have a desire to encourage the next generation of students and aspiring scientists. Alumni, students, and faculty are vital in building relationships and promoting service in physics and astronomy departments.
If you are in a department that has not done service recently, start small. Take a few minutes each week to gather those in your department and discuss a physics or astronomy topic and enjoy snacks together. Once you have some momentum, you might host a tutoring session for students in introductory courses. These are great ways to engage first-year students and to build fellowship between new and advanced students. Participants will see that your department is committed to helping them thrive.
Additional activities might include a journal club where folks read articles and discuss them over lunch, or talks by guest speakers. Inviting students to talk about their research promotes local scholarship. Using resources like GradSchool Shopper magazine, the Careers Toolbox, and panels to discuss graduate school or career options provides opportunities for students to consider their future. Social events like game nights with pizza are always fun and stress relieving, too.
In addition to departmental service, service to the community is crucial. That’s how we communicate science, and how we do science, to broader audiences. There are many ways to interact with your community—hosting large demo shows, visiting classrooms or after-school programs with hands-on activities, or giving campus tours—all of which can have lasting impact.
Not in a department? Contribute by interacting with local departments and your alma mater. Offer to participate in or host events. Connect departments, chapters, and students to local businesses and organizations. Mentor students. Donate equipment or other items for use in demo shows and after-school programs. Financial gifts are always welcome for purchasing supplies and small equipment, too.
If you can, invite others to visit your campus or place of work. Organize a demo show and encourage widespread participation. Invite local schools and youth organizations, and volunteer to interact with them in the future. So often young students have a genuine interest in science that, if not nurtured, can fade away by high school or university. Your service can help build their enthusiasm, motivation, confidence, and knowledge.
As a society, Sigma Pi Sigma has emphasized service since its inception at Davidson College in 1921. The original founders of Sigma Pi Sigma wanted a student group that honored outstanding scholarship, encouraged interest in physics at all levels, promoted service among fellow students, colleagues, and the public, and cultivated fellowship among students interested in physics and astronomy. By promoting these same values, we follow in their footsteps.
As you begin this academic year, I encourage each chapter to begin planning a Sigma Pi Sigma induction event. While these ceremonies recognize outstanding students as part of a national honor society, I encourage you to host other activities in conjunction. You might recognize student research, host a guest speaker, or introduce first-year students to the larger physics and astronomy community. Your department could host an open house and invite alumni. With planning, your induction ceremony can honor students who have achieved in physics and astronomy while engaging others who share the values of the society.
I challenge each of us to become advocates for our disciplines of physics and astronomy and to embrace service as part of who we are and what we do.
Get Support for Inductions and Chapter Activities
Sigma Pi Sigma Chapter Project Awards of up to $500 are awarded to Sigma Pi Sigma chapters to support inductions or other engaging activities that include alums or promote Sigma Pi Sigma on campus or to the public. Learn more at www.sigmapisigma.org/sigmapisigma/awards/chapter-project.
Be a Resource for SPS Chapters
Join the SPS and Sigma Pi Sigma Alumni Engagement Program—a database of participants willing to be speakers, panelists, tour guides, and mentors for SPS chapters. Learn more at www.spsnational.org/programs/alumni-engagement.