Chair's Annual Statement

In support of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) within our multicultural, multinational community, in this South Texas Region, and in support of the College of Science and Engineering's as well as The University of Texas – Pan American's vision to be the Premier Learner Centered Research Institution in the State of Texas, the Department of Physics and Geology has experienced some special opportunities over the past year that enhances our ability in the short-, mid- and long-term time frames to enhance educational opportunities in the areas of Astronomy, Geology, Physical Sciences, and Physics. As Chair of the Department of Physics and Geology at the University of Texas – Pan American, this first year has provided me with many wonderful experiences some of which I would like to share with you below.

Through support from administrators including allocation of HEAF funds as provided by the President's Executive Council, through support from our community including community leaders, various departments as well as through support of numerous faculty both within and outside the Department, many of whom have gone above and beyond the call of duty, we as a Department have been provided with a significant opportunity to support and strengthen short-, mid- and long-term STEM education outreach in the South Texas Region through enhanced capabilities at The University of Texas – Pan American Planetarium. These enhancements: a new portable digital projector; surround sound system; several new movies; and, a portable dome; have since installation on 27 March 2008 provided increased STEM outreach as demonstrated through increased Planetarium attendance. The Planetarium may be used to engage our community and support programs like FESTIBA, HESTEC, STEM-based summer camps, Tuesday Observation Night, as well as other University special events like the Visitor's Center dinosaur exhibit "SUE". In addition to supporting Astronomy classes here at the University, the Planetarium may also support other classes where three-dimensional (3D) visualization may be important. The portable dome and portable digital projector allow us to mobilize the Planetarium so that we may take the Planetarium experience to schools, particularly schools that may not otherwise be able to attend the fixed Planetarium at the University of Texas – Pan American.

The Department of Physics and Geology in conjunction with the Department of Chemistry, the College of Education and in partnership with several area school districts partnered together to develop a much needed program, a Bachelor of Science in Interdisciplinary Studies (BSIS) in Physical Science (Chemistry and Physics), that provides our next generation of teachers in Chemistry and Physics with the opportunity for in-depth knowledge and understanding of Chemistry and Physics, provides future teachers training utilizing inquiry based teaching methods, provides for certification of teachers in both Chemistry and Physics, and, addresses the 2012 Texas statute that requires students to have introductory physics before graduating from high school. The BSIS in Physical Science program seeks top level high school graduates, as identified by individual school districts, whom may be provided with scholarships and who upon graduation from the program return back to the school district from which they came to provide at least two years of instruction in physics within that school district. Such highly trained teachers who know the problems within the community may better be able to address student learning needs at the high school level and thereby further enabling those students for success at the University level particularly in STEM related fields. The BSIS in Physical Science which is pending THECB approval may be implemented as early as the fall semester of 2009.

The Department of Physics and Geology through the diligent efforts of the Department Curriculum Committee evaluated, revised and strengthened the Physics Curriculum. For students majoring in Physics before fall 2008, they may continue with their current degree program or may utilize the new degree plan. For students that major in Physics beginning fall of 2008 or thereafter will utilize the new degree plan. The new curriculum adds various new mandatory courses that are more typical of physics programs from across the country and will better prepare our students upon graduation for gainful employment and/or provide them with improved opportunity to compete at the graduate level in Physics. The Physics Curriculum for majors is a four-year 122 hour degree program. To support this new curriculum and support University goals of reducing the students' time to graduation without reducing the quality of education, the Department will be improving its course offering schedule. The department has also worked closely with several other departments to review, evaluate and revise the scheduling of courses as well as prerequisite requirements that may assist students in reducing their time to graduation without reducing the quality of education delivered to the student.

The Department of Physics and Geology is improving the Department's, the College of Science and Engineering's and the University's ability to support and perform research as well as develop partnerships through the successful funding of two proposals: (1) "Supporting Government Laboratories Nationally as well as Industry and Education in the Rio Grande Valley Through X-ray Diffraction Facilities and Training" that brings $785,000.00 of Department of Defense (DoD) funding to support the University over the time period, 1 August 2008 to 1 August 2011. These monies in addition to supporting several students and faculty help provide state-of-the-science x-ray diffraction facilities (to the best of our knowledge the only such facilities in South Texas) that may be used to support a wide range of disciplines here at UTPA as well as provides opportunity to support and partner with various industry and government entities; and, (2) "The Impact of Interactive Engagement Teaching Approach using PDAs as Classroom Interaction System in a Predominately Hispanic Institution" that brings $149,790.00 of Nation Science Foundation (NSF) support to the University for interactive classroom instruction and education research for methods to improve student learning in Physical Sciences and Physics. Both funded proposals support the Department of Physics and Geology's, the College of Science and Engineering's and the University's vision of becoming the "Premier Learner Centered Research Institution" in the State of Texas.

Overall, the academic year 2007-2008, has resulted in the strengthening of the Department of Physics and Geology's foundation for providing effective education, outreach, research and service to and for the community. We as a Department, College, University and Community should begin to see the fruits born from these investments that have strengthened our overall educational foundation.

Steven C. Tidrow, Ph.D.
Chair, Department of Physics and Geology
University of Texas – Pan American