Transforming Pizza Lectures into Virtual Visits

Share This:




Transforming Pizza Lectures into Virtual Visits


Ruth Malenda, SPS Chapter Advisor, Emma Miller, SPS Chapter President, and Cecilia Zimmerli, SPS Chapter Vice President, Moravian University

Morovian University SPS members pose for a group photo. Photo courtesy of the chapter.The Moravian University SPS chapter has been hosting Pizza Lectures for decades—literally. According to Dr. Edward Roeder, who retired last year after 55 years of teaching physics, these informal talks with a side of free pizza began in 1985.

Over the years, guest speakers for this series have included chapter members with research or internship experience, graduate students, and professional scientists from places such as NASA, Bell Labs, and Oak Ridge National Laboratory. The talks give our members insight into different types of research, models for presenting their own research, and an opportunity to ask questions about graduate school or careers in physics. Plus—free pizza!

But last year was different; like so many other aspects of college life, when COVID-19 hit, these valuable events couldn’t continue in their usual form. So we reinvented Pizza Lectures as Virtual Alumni Visits. Alumni were invited to come back—virtually—and update us on their lives since graduating. We asked presenters to answer a short list of questions such as, “Do you have any advice for undergraduate students postgraduation?” and “What do you wish you had done differently or learned at Moravian?” But most of the time was reserved for attendees to ask questions.

In the fall semester, we hosted Katie Bahnck and Bryan Harvey. Katie graduated from Moravian in 2018. At the time of her virtual visit, she was finishing up a master’s degree in mechanical engineering at Washington University in St. Louis. Bryan graduated in 2019 and is a physics PhD candidate at Texas A&M University simulating nuclear collisions.

Alumni Fouad Haddad and Matthew Conners were guest speakers in the spring semester. Fouad graduated from Moravian in 2018 and earned a master’s in energy engineering from Lehigh University. He’s now an aerospace and mechanical engineering PhD candidate at the University of Arizona. Matthew graduated in 2019 and is an associate engineer in the facilities engineering department at a medical device company.

The Virtual Alumni Visits provided valuable opportunities for undergraduate students to ask alumni questions about their postgraduation experiences and get advice on how to make the most of their time in college. Emma Miller, senior physics and mathematics major and current SPS chapter president, says that the talks were “a good first look into what grad school is like, as well as other potential options for after graduation.” The guests enjoyed sharing their experiences with current students and reconnecting with familiar faces among the faculty and students who attended.

The world has changed dramatically over the past two years, and connecting with others has become more important than ever. Thanks to the flexibility, adaptability, and ingenuity of club members and the technological advances of remote conferencing, our SPS chapter found a way to persevere, strengthening relationships and connecting across the challenges of COVID-19. Even without free pizza.

Need help finding physics alumni to participate in your chapter meeting or event? Connect with Sigma Pi Sigma members and SPS alumni through the Alumni Engagement Program—a database of participants who are willing to be speakers or panelists (in-person or virtual), tour guides, and mentors. 

More from this department