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Virginia Tech hosting American Physical Society’s Conference for Undergraduate Women in Physics

January 9, 2017

Giti Khodaparast and Lara Anderson

Giti Khodaparast and Lara Anderson
Giti Khodaparast and Lara Anderson

Virginia Tech will serve as one of 10 regional hosts for the national 2017 American Physical Society Conference for Undergraduate Women in Physics (CUWiP). 

More than 140 students, including 130 from around the Southeast United States, are expected to attend the Blacksburg-based regional event, to be held Friday–Sunday, Jan. 13-15, 2017.

This marks the first time that Virginia Tech has hosted the national event designed to help undergraduate women continue in physics by providing them with opportunities to experience a professional conference, receive information about graduate school and professions in physics, and enjoy access to other women in physics of all ages with whom they can share experiences, advice, and ideas.

Events at Virginia Tech this year include research talks, panel discussions about graduate school and careers in physics, workshops and discussions about women in physics, student research talks and poster session, and laboratory tours.

“We strongly believe this conference provides inspiration for future generations of female scientists, allowing them to connect with peers and mentors and to engage in dialogues not always possible at their home institutions,” said Giti Khodaparast, an associate professor in the Virginia Tech Department of Physics, part of the College of Science, and one of the key event organizers. “We will have five female faculty, one physics teacher-in-residence, and many female graduate and undergraduate students involved in organizing this event. We have the perspective and personnel to make this conference a success.”

Added co-organizer Lara Anderson, an assistant professor of physics, “The CUWiP conferences have become a powerful tool to support and encourage female STEM students. According to the American Physical Society’s data, there are now nearly as many female students attending CUWIPs each year as there are women graduating with physics degrees in the United States. This means that we have a chance to collectively connect with a whole generation of students. I’m excited to have that opportunity.”

The keynote national speaker is Professor Nergis Mavalval of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, a recipient of the 2010 MacArthur Foundation “Genius” Award and a leading scientist with the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory (LIGO) project, which has detected gravitational waves. Her address will be shown via webcast for all CUWiP members. Speaking at Virginia Tech will be Professor Laura Greene of Florida State University, incoming president of the American Physical Society.

Local speakers also include Virginia Tech community members who have actively worked in campus STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) diversity and inclusion efforts, including College of Science Dean Sally C. Morton; Menah Pratt-Clarke, vice provost for inclusion and diversity and vice president for strategic affairs; and Bevlee Watford, associate dean for academic affairs with the College of Engineering and director of the college’s Center for Enhancement for Engineering Diversity.

“The College of Science is proud to serve as a host for this year’s Conference for Undergraduate Women in Physics,” said Morton, who will open the event with a talk on Friday night. “I can think of no better way to start the new year in our college than bringing together young women with experts in the fields of physics and science for a weekend of discussion and learning. Hosting this event fits exactly with our college core values of science excellence, discovery, diversity of people and ideas, and service.”

The Virginia Tech event is being hosted by the Department of Physics, the Center for the Neutrino Physics, the College of Science, the Office of Vice Provost for Research, Office of Vice President for Undergraduate Education, AdvanceVT, the Graduate School of Virginia Tech, the Multicultural Academic Opportunities Program, Virginia Tech’s Institute for Critical Technology and Applied Sciences, and Case Western Reserve University’s Office of Inclusion and Diversity.

Additional North American universities hosting CUWiP gatherings during the Jan. 13-15 event are Harvard University; McMaster University in Ontario, Canada; Montana State University; Princeton University; Rice University; University of Colorado Boulder; University of California Los Angeles; University of Wisconsin-Madison; and Wayne State University in Michigan.  

National funding for CUWiP, now in its 11th year, comes from the National Science Foundation and the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science. Students traveling to Virginia Tech hail from Georgia, Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, Tennessee, West Virginia, and Washington, D.C.