A Physics Leader

Posted on September 1st, 2009 by

The physics department's 2008 graduating class included 16 graduates—seven of whom were women.

The physics department's 2008 graduating class included 16 graduates—seven of whom were women.

Gustavus has a history of excellence when it comes to educating undergraduate students in the sciences.

It’s easy to understand why Gustavus is such a desirable place for an undergraduate student interested in physics, biology, or chemistry because the College has dedicated faculty members, state-of-the-art laboratories, spacious academic buildings for the sciences, such as Alfred Nobel Hall of Science and F.W. Olin Hall of Physics, Mathematics, and Computer Science, and the annual Nobel Conference that draws 6,000 people to campus.

It should come as no surprise then that Gustavus has become a leader in helping to reverse a troubling nationwide trend. The fact that across the United States women have been and continue to be underrepresented in the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) disciplines. No where is the disparity greater than in physics, where women accounted for just 20 percent of the bachelor’s degrees granted in physics in 2005, according to data from the American Institute of Physics.

In recent years at Gustavus, however, the physics department has enjoyed a sharp rise in the number of females seeking degrees. After graduating seven women physics majors from 2003 to 2005, the College has granted physics degrees to 13 women from 2006 to 2008.

The physics department’s 2008 graduating class included 16 graduates—seven of whom were women. Even more astounding though is the fact that all seven of those female graduates are pursuing advanced degrees in the fall. They were accepted into stellar programs and are listed below.

  • Danielle Berg and Kathleen DeWahl will pursue graduate studies in astrophysics at the University of Minnesota;
  • Kristen Burson will pursue physics graduate study at the University of Maryland;
  • Eva Cornell has received a graduate fellowship to study biophysics at Boston University;
  • Anna Lindquist will undertake graduate studies in geophysics at the University of Minnesota;
  • Michelle Price will study applied physics at the University of Michigan; and
  • Jing-Han Soh will attend graduate school in physics at Minnesota State University, Mankato.

Having 100 percent of the College’s women physics majors going on to graduate studies in some field of physics is unusual,” said Steve Mellema, chair of the Gustavus Department of Physics. “Nevertheless, throughout the past decade Gustavus women physics majors have gone on to and achieved remarkable success in a wide range of post-graduate studies.”

Several 2006 graduates, including Meghan Brummer Bjork, Erika Galazen, Sharon Jaffe, Joni Nordberg, and Dorea Ruggles are in the midst of or just completing graduate studies at universities throughout the nation.

2005 graduate Kelly Younge is in the applied physics program at the University of Michigan and was recently awarded a National Defense Science and Engineering Fellowship Grant from the U.S. Department of Defense.

2003 graduate Sarah Handahl Ahlberg has completed her Ph.D. in biomedical engineering at the University of Minnesota and is now employed in the cardiac division at Medtronic Corporation.

2002 graduate Amanda Havnen completed her Ph.D. in biomedical engineering at Wake Forest University and is now working in radiation-therapy physics at the University of Chicago.

“The success of these women in such a variety of areas speaks directly to the quality of the physics program at Gustavus,” Mellema said. “It speaks to the breadth of opportunities available to graduates who complete the College’s physics major, and to the fact that Gustavus is one place where women in physics are a very significant part of the program.”

For more information about the physics program at Gustavus, contact Steve Mellema at 507-933-7306 or mellema@gustavus.edu.


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