Tuesday, May 12, 2009

A Snapshot of the Department

Each spring we gather information to get an idea of where the JMU PandA stands in relation to other physics departments in Virginia and the nation. Some data comes from the State Commission on Higher Education of Virginia (SCHEV) and some comes from the American Institute of Physics (AIP). The SCHEV data is from 2008 and the AIP data is from the 2007 report.

What we see this year is similar to what we've seen in recent years: JMU is a large department. The figure above shows the integrated number of physics departments smaller than a given size for all (reporting) institutions and for undergraduate-only institutions. As you can see, there are only 10 undergraduate-only institutions in the national larger than us! When considering all institutions, JMU is larger than all but 72 physics departments. This means that only 10.4% of all (reporting) physics departments in the nation are larger than us! Since the people who don't report almost always have nothing to report, we're almost certainly in the top 10% of all departments.

This is really an amazing statistic and promises to only get better. This year Giovanna Scarel and Anca Constantin have joined our faculty and Jamey Szalay has been awarded a Goldwater Scholarship. With our outstanding (and growing) faculty and the ability to recruit more excellent students like Jamey (we awarded ten scholarships this year to freshmen!), we are on track to really add quality to our program, no just size.

If you look at the most recent SCHEV data (2008) on graduation rates from Phyiscs Departments in Virginia, we find that only two departments produced more physics graduates than JMU: University of Virginia (21) and William and Mary (18). Our 17 graduates puts us very much in contention with these two universities.

And just to be sure you get the point, consider the number of junior and senior physics majors as a measure of the size of the department. According to the AIP, there are only 8/461 undergraduate-only programs larger than us (we had 50 in 2007) and 66/690 larger out of all institutions.

So, here's the point: If you want to be part of a vibrant undergraduate physics department that's large enough for lots of opportunities but not so large you get lost, JMU is the place for you. Both size and quality - we've got them both!

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Graduation: May 9, 2009

So, the big day finally arrives. It was cloudy and looked like rain all morning but we managed to get through all the festivities without anyone getting wet.

The graduate school has grown to the point where it has finally been given its own separate ceremony on Friday night so that Saturday morning is all about the undergraduates. This shortens the main ceremony and gives it a clear focus on what JMU is really all about: undergraduates. The speaker this year was Paul Holland ('82). Paul has become an important actor in the green movement and he gave what most people reckoned was probably an above average commencement address.

The satellite ceremony for the College of Science and Mathematics was held again this year on the lawn next to the East Campus Library. We had a good crowd. There was a reception afterwards with food and drink provided by the College. A good time was had by all.

Continuing with our new tradition of having a speaker at the College ceremony as well, this year we heard from Mathematics professor, Dr. David Pruett. He gave a thoughtful and inspiring talk and it was well received. the photo above shows David in one of his reflective moments at the reception.

We tried to gather all the PandA grads for a photo after the ceremony and we got most of them. As you can see in the photo, only the guys showed up. More photos are going on the PandA web page soon so you can see all the details of who was there.

There were a total of 15 grads this spring. Adding in the 2 from December, we have a total of 17 again this year. JMU PandA continues to be a strong and vibrant program.

We wish our graduate well and hope they come back often to visit and keep us up to date on their lives and careers. We wouldn't be upset if some were to make lots of money are remember us either!