Pictured above – Tech’s Society of Physics Students chapter tours Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

Students aim to continue building on the success of the last year

Cookeville – Tennessee Tech University’s chapter of the Society of Physics Students (SPS) has won an “Outstanding Chapter Award” from the society’s national office in College Park, Maryland.

Adam Holley, associate professor of physics at Tech and faculty advisor for Tech’s SPS chapter, says it is the highest award given to chapters and is conferred on less than 15% of chapters nationwide each year.

“The fact that our chapter received this award indicates that our students are among the most enthusiastic and engaged physics majors in the country,” said Holley. “As faculty advisor, this award says to me that the physics department has been very fortunate to attract students with such passion for science, such creativity and such a willingness to help others actively pursue their varied interests.”

Mateo Cacheiro, a senior physics major and president of Tech’s SPS chapter, says the award came after a season of rebuilding and growth for the club, which now boasts around 20 active members who have also become close friends.

“About a year ago today, there were four people in the club,” said Cacheiro. “They came together and decided to rebuild the chapter and rebuild a community within the physics major here. The amount of things we did in 2023 to rebuild the chapter and to reconnect with other chapters at other universities was enough to give us this award. It felt like we’d really done everything we could to rebuild this program here. That’s why I feel so proud of it.”

Emma Krebs, a sophomore physics major and immediate past president of Tech’s SPS chapter, was one of those members who took a leading role in reviving the club’s presence on Tech’s campus. She now serves as vice president of the chapter.

“When we all worked on the document to submit for award consideration, most of it was actually just listing the fun experiences we had and how proud we were of the events we did,” said Krebs. “It was more so, ‘hey, look at all the fun experiences we had,’ not thinking we would win something like this.”

Among the events Krebs helped plan were a lake day, outreach events to incoming students, game nights and a watch party for last October’s annular solar eclipse that drew more than 300 students, alumni and community members to campus. The chapter also sent its first representative to the annual Physics Congress, “PhysCon,” held in Washington, D.C.

Zeke Vespie, another senior physics major serving as outreach officer for Tech’s SPS chapter, says that, as one of the club’s longest-serving members, he had a front row seat to the chapter’s growth trajectory.

“The amount that we have done to make it better in the last year or two has really been tremendous,” said Vespie. “I’ve been impressed with Mateo and Emma’s efforts. Just watching the club evolve is what’s impressed me the most.”

Cacheiro, Krebs and Vespie each say that the reputation of Tech’s physics department, along with the hands-on research opportunities for undergraduate students and the lower tuition cost all weighed heavily on their decision to enroll.

“One of the primary things that brought me to this university was the research opportunities that were available to me as a freshman the day I walked in,” said Cacheiro.

Likewise, Krebs praised the “tight-knit community that the physics department offered,” adding, “you can get into research early, you get to know your professors and the further along you go, the closer it gets.”

“I’ll admit when I first was looking for a college to go to in high school, the first thing I filtered on was the price tag,” said Vespie. “I prefer to work in a space where I can know everybody, and that definitely was helpful at Tech.”

Looking ahead, the students aim to continue building on the success of the last year and forge a deeper sense of community for those with an interest in physics on Tech’s campus.

“A big focus of ours is a social aspect of finding a community you can belong in,” said Cacheiro. “The goal is to try and engage everybody who has a passion for physics in ways that they can interact with each other and have that community.”

Formed in 1968 within the American Institute for Physics, SPS has more than 820 chapters on college campuses across the country. Learn more at www.spsnational.org.

Photo courtesy of Warren Grice.

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