Building a Solid Foundation in Physics

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SPS Chapters on Outreach

Building a Solid Foundation in Physics


Katie Bailey, SPS Chapter President, Stephen F. Austin State University

SFASU Solid Foundation Van de Graaff Generator.JPG

Chapter members demonstrate electric charge with a Van de Graaff generator. Photo by Katie Bailey.

Engaging with the community has long been a core focus of our SPS chapter at Stephen F. Austin State University. Our goal is to increase interest in STEM and help the public interact with our university. More specifically, we strive to reach the kids in our community—those who will one day succeed us. Now more than ever, cultivating and supporting an interest in physics among young people is necessary to foster diversity and inclusivity in our field.

One way that we work to achieve this is through an after-school program called Solid Foundation Association. Created in 1992, the association supports at-risk youth through mentorship and various types of enrichment. Our chapter has been volunteering at Solid Foundation for over a decade, encouraging interest in STEM and helping to make our field more accessible to students.

Most recently, we’ve been making the trip twice per month. Prior to each visit, our chapter members choose an introductory physics topic to focus on. We then identify relevant demonstrations and do practice runs with the help of faculty. We typically bring a few demos and a hands-on activity for students. Our audience has a wide age range, from elementary to high school, so we make sure that the demos are interesting to the whole group and that we can explain the concepts at a level that everyone can understand.

Upon our arrival, we gather all of the students together and introduce the topic. Then we ask questions to help us gauge what they might already know about the subject. Before each demo, we encourage students to form their own hypothesis about what might happen. Afterward, we discuss which hypotheses were correct and why. This transitions into a conversation about the underlying physics that drives each demonstration. Finally, we conclude each trip with an interactive activity, such as making ice cream, constructing tinfoil boats, or creating songs with boomwhackers (percussion tubes).

In recent years this program has been so successful that we’ve begun collaborating with other STEM departments on campus to generate programs that go beyond physics. Ultimately, it’s rewarding for our members to see so many young students get excited about STEM and become interested in pursuing a STEM degree. It’s even more rewarding to think that our chapter might play a small role in increasing diversity in STEM fields in the coming years.

Grow Your Outreach with Help from SPS Headquarters

Get Money for Chapter Outreach Events

Marsh White Awards of up to $500 are available for chapter programs or events that promote an interest in physics or astronomy among students or the general public. Applications are due November 15. Learn more at

Get Money for Chapter Events that Promote Diversity and Inclusivity

Future Faces of Physics Awards of up to $500 are available for chapter programs or events that promote physics and astronomy across cultures. Applications are due November 15. Learn more at

Get an Outreach Kit: The SPS SOCK

Science Outreach Catalyst Kits (SOCKs) are free science outreach kits designed for SPS chapters. New SOCKs are created each summer by SPS interns. Request a SOCK for your chapter at



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