Geneseo recognizes success of women in physics

Members, alumni, family and friends of the Geneseo physics department gathered on Jan. 31 for the third annual Women in Physics Mixer. Among those in attendance were eight undergraduates that had attended the East Coast Conference for Undergraduate Women in Physics at SUNY Stony Brook over winter break. According to the American Physical Society, eight national conferences took place as part of the Conferences for Undergraduate Women in Physics, one of them held in Stony Brook, home to the famous Brookhaven National Laboratory.

The eight physics majors that attended were freshman Hannah Harrison, sophomore Dana Cody, juniors Mollie Bienstock and Angela Simeone and seniors Sara Gearhart, Mary Keenan-Brown, Angela Paolucci and Kirstin Barber. Sophomore Amy Walters attended the CUWiP at the University of Maryland. All conferences took place between Jan. 17 and Jan. 19.

“Students took the initiative,” Department Chair of Physics Charlie Freeman said. “The women applied for funding through APS and the rest of the department helped with the travel expenses.”

According to Freeman, this was the first time students ever attended the conference.

“I loved learning and seeing all the opportunities for physics majors,” Cody said. “Now I can see myself working in the industry.”

Out of the hundreds who attended the Stony Brook conference, Geneseo sent the greatest number of students; most schools only had two or three representatives.

Harrison was the only freshman out of the Geneseo attendees. She said that, two years ago, she didn’t know what physics was until one of her high school teachers introduced her to the subject. After that, she took both Advanced Placement physics courses her school offered and decided physics was her future. She enjoyed the lab and appreciated the exposure to different careers and networking opportunities.

“I really liked the trip because I got to know the other physics majors,” Harrison said. “I only met one other freshman at the conference.”

The students were brought on tours of the lab where they saw innovative light sources under construction and students witnessed engineering firsthand. The conference also gave attendees the chance to hear notable guest speakers in the field of physics and participate in educational activities.

According to Freeman, many women experience discrimination in the fields of science, especially in physics, which leads to low enrollment.

Women are also the minority in the field of physics. According to the American Association of University Women, around 60 percent of biology graduates are women and around 50 percent of chemistry graduates are women, while only 20 percent of physics graduates are women.

Alumna Amanda Geniviva ‘11 said the amount of female physics majors has definitely increased at Geneseo since she graduated, and “the department here is truly great.”

Overall, the number of women in the field of physics is steadily increasing, and the Geneseo physics department hopes to send more undergraduates to the conference next year.

“I always wanted to help the world,” Harrison said. “Physics is how everything works. And what better way to help the world than to help people understand how it works.”

Correction: The online version of this article reflects changes from the Feb. 6 issue that misquotes Department Chair of Physics Charlie Freeman.  Freeman stated, "the women applied for funding through APS," not “the girls had applied for funding through APS,” as indicated in the print version. Freeman also stated, "students witnessed engineering firsthand," not students saw "whiteness engineering firsthand."