Professional Societies, Funders, and Industry Should Support PIE—But How?
Professional societies—such as the APS, AAPT, SPS, etc.—have strategic goals that implicitly align with the outcomes of incorporating I&E into physics. Professional societies, generally, want to:
- Support career development/success of their communities
- See their discipline thrive
- Broaden the spectrum of stakeholders
- Diversify and stabilize funding for their programs
- Make the world better
PIE education contributes mightily to these outcomes. Fundamentally, it makes physics more relevant to students and to addressing world problems, opens up opportunities for greater community engagement (including industry), invites financial partnerships that can support operations and research, and has the potential to recruit new and diverse audiences into the discipline.
What can societies explicitly do to help make I&E a fundamental component of physics education?
- Publicize/promote PIE to their respective memberships—offer dedicated, invited sessions and plenaries at meetings (along with effective advertisement), offer themed meetings based on PIE (either in connection with existing meetings or as a standalone meeting), publish dedicated journal issues (e.g., The Physics Teacher, American Journal of Physics, etc.), and solicit content for their digital libraries, such as comPADRE and PhysPort
- Seek opportunities to collaborate with funders—beyond government sources (e.g., industry) and potentially across disciplinary lines—on projects aimed at increasing PIE adoption
- Influence policy (e.g., economic, educational, accreditation)—for example, promote PIE to the National Science Foundation and other funders as a necessary element for the success of the discipline, lobby accrediting agencies to recognize PIE efforts as supporting student outcomes, recommend revisions to promotion and tenure standards for physics faculty to make I&E an accepted and core part of physics education and research, promote industrial funding and partnerships as qualifying as scholarly research to academic leaders
- Promote the discipline in the context of PIE to the general public and the secondary education community
Economic development organizations and funders need to do their part as well. Each county in the US has an EDC—a group dedicated to economic improvement in their respective regions. EDCs can help create bridges between academic institutions and regional industries and can even recruit companies to their regions to take advantage of academic capabilities. They can also help bring funding to these kinds of activities through agencies such as the Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Administration (EDA). Commercialization of physics-developed technologies can also be supported by these groups, as they serve as catalysts for innovation, entrepreneurship, and business development. Physics departments need to reach out to the EDCs—and EDCs need to reach out to physics departments, as the synergies between the two can be leveraged for success for both. Chambers of Commerce and other local/ regional economic development and promotional organizations such as Small Business Development Centers are also urged to take part in these important educational activities, and physics departments should reach out to them, as well.
Funding agencies need to recognize that implementing curricular and student experiential change on campuses takes more than just developing new content or pedagogical approaches—it takes sustained financial support. Creating funding vehicles that pay for implementation, and not just development, will be a critical step for institutionalizing PIE in the experience of physics students. Similarly, agencies funding physics should support research and development projects that address real-world problems beyond those that formally advance fundamental physics. Some of the approaches may be “blue sky” but could have the potential to significantly impact key areas where improved technology is needed (e.g., transportation, energy, health, the environment). The current circumstances with COVID-19 highlight the need for scientifically trained individuals to have the tools, skills, and abilities to address real-world problems, across multiple disciplines, including economic and human factors. These types of projects can still incorporate advances in physics and can be as challenging and rewarding for researchers and students as the research projects that are traditionally pursued in physics departments.
Bringing industry into the PIE education process is another step that will be needed to successfully evolve physics education for the 21st century. Partnerships between industry and academia can serve as a pipeline for technology and program development, provide expertise on which departments can draw, create opportunities for internships or job shadowing for students, and offer research opportunities for student research experiences and theses and dissertations. These kinds of partnerships pay dividends for all concerned—providing physics expertise to companies while giving students and faculty a broad range of opportunities for research, funding, and professional experience. Over the long term, investment by industry in I&E experiences for students will result in a workforce that is better prepared, more creative, and more apt to provide growth and financial return.