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Department of Physics joins APS network to improve equity, diversity, and inclusion
2 September 2020
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Credit: American Physical Society

The Penn State Department of Physics has been selected to join the American Physical Society’s Inclusion, Diversity, and Equity Alliance (APS-IDEA), a new initiative to build a collaborative network that promotes equity, diversity, and inclusion in the physics community. 

The Department of Physics is one of 97 teams selected as inaugural members of the APS-IDEA Network, each of which will work to improve equity, diversity, and inclusion at their own institutions while sharing their experience and expertise with the broader network. The overarching goal of initiative is to expedite systemic change for the physics community at large.

The Penn State Department of Physics "acknowledges the additional challenges faced by underrepresented groups in the field and is committed to fostering an inclusive community, where people of all backgrounds and identities feel safe and supported," as stated on the department website.

"Creating an inclusive space requires a community effort, and we believe that participating in the APS-IDEA Network will help us to strengthen our community at Penn State as well as the broader physics community," added Doug Cowen, professor of physics and chair of the Physics Climate, Community, and Diversity Committee at Penn State.

APS-IDEA, supported by the APS Innovation Fund, was launched in October 2019 with a mission of empowering physics departments, laboratories, and other organizations, to achieve cultural change. 

“The ultimate vision for APS-IDEA that we’re heading for in say, 10 or 20 years, is to transform the culture of physics to be more equitable and inclusive, and with a diversity that better reflects the nation,” says Monica Plisch, director of programs at APS and a member of the APS-IDEA Steering Committee. “Essentially we’re seeking to establish a community of transformation.”

Inaugural members participated in workshops this summer, which gave APS-IDEA Network members an opportunity to get to know one another and learn about concepts for improving equity, diversity, and inclusion, such as shared leadership. In the spirit of shared leadership, each team is made up of members who represent a range of stakeholders, including those in both more senior and more junior positions. Plisch suggests that this is necessary to make change, because it includes people who have the power to make change as well as those with the clearest perspective on what needs to change.

The Penn State Physics Climate, Community, and Diversity Committee echoed this sentiment in a recent statement: “We will need frequent discussions among all department stakeholders to reach a shared understanding of the need for change, a shared understanding of the appropriate mechanisms to achieve that change, and a mutual commitment to change.” 

The committee believes there are important opportunities to make change at Penn State in the recruitment of graduate students and their support early in the program, the hiring of faculty, and the mentorship and support structure for students, postdocs, faculty, and staff.

"While the Department of Physics has several ongoing and successful equity, diversity, and inclusion initiatives, participation in the APS-IDEA Network will allow us to learn best practices from other participating institutions,” said Cowen. “Adopting these new ideas, and adapting them for our own department, will ultimately improve EDI right here at home."