Opportunity Fellowship: A Challenge to Our Alums

Department of Physics and Astronomy members are eager to do our part to fix our field's distressing underrepresentation of certain racial and ethnic minority groups. We are attacking this problem on many fronts. As one example, we now have a few laptops available to loan out to low-income students who would otherwise have trouble participating fully during our computational physics classes. We do not want any student to feel unwelcome or disadvantaged in our courses because of their financial situation! Many such fixes are easy to make, once we're aware of the issue. No single action will make a huge impact, but collectively they will help all students feel comfortable and successful in our department.

Another effort, the Physics and Astronomy Opportunity Fellowship, will have its first recipients in Fall 2023. We will select students who have shown the determination needed to earn a Ph.D. but for one reason or another have an atypical record for a Ph.D. admit. This could be missing coursework because they grew interested in Physics late in college. It could be low grades or lack of research experience because of long work hours during college to pay the rent and tuition bills. There are plenty of other possible situations. Fellowship recipients can be of any race, ethnicity, gender, etc., but we expect many to be students from underrepresented minority groups, who are more likely to have faced such obstacles. The fellowship will reduce or eliminate students' teaching responsibilities during the first year or two of graduate school, enabling them to focus more effort on coursework or gain some research experience. You can read more in this graduate student view of how the Ph.D. will unfold for a fellowship recipient.

In preparation for fellowship students, we are restructuring how our faculty mentor new students, searching for ways to build stronger relationships between new grad students and individual faculty mentors. This is also our first year as a Partnership Institute in the APS Bridge Program, which has similar goals to our fellowship. We are currently evaluating Bridge Program applications. Any Bridge students admitted for this fall will be supported from other department resources, but we will enable student success through the same strategies we are developing for the Opportunity Fellowship.

To date we have raised nearly $100,000 for the Opportunity Fund endowment, with pledges bringing the total to about $250,000. We hope eventually to reach $1,000,000, which will provide full funding for one student per year or partial funding for several. The campaign kicked off last Give Day with 75 gifts, the vast majority from our graduate and undergraduate students. Since then more than 80% of our active faculty have also donated or pledged gifts.

Our challenge to alums is to match the generosity of our students. With your help, we hope to reach 75 gifts again by April 23, Give Day 2022!