Science & Service - Sigma Pi Sigma

Science & Service - Sigma Pi Sigma

In anticipation of the 2012 Quadrennial Physics Congress,

we explore the “Science & Service” aspects of its theme.

For the latest meeting details, see

8 Radiations Spring 2012

At the Colorado School

of Mines "Haunted

Physics Lab" outreach

event, inquiring minds

explore a plasma ball.

Photo by Kenton Seward.

& Science


By Diane Jacobs, Sigma Pi Sigma President

Eastern Michigan University

Why should honor societies ask

their members to do anything

beyond achieving good grades

On the brochure students receive

when they are invited to join

Sigma Pi Sigma are printed the

following words: honor, encouragement,

fellowship, service. These are the cornerstones

of our physics honor society. Each

precept is important, but I would like

to focus our attention on service. Why

should honor societies ask their members

to do anything beyond achieving good

grades The answer is that it is not sufficient

to reward academic performance—

that is the purview of a scholarship. A

prospective inductee should also be recognized

for contributions to the honor

society and the community in which it

belongs. When you become a member

of Sigma Pi Sigma, you are joining a

community whose mission statement

includes the directive “... to encourage

interest in physics among students at all

levels.” 1

When does service as a member

of Sigma Pi Sigma begin Right after

induction into the society! Student

members of Sigma Pi Sigma can serve by

being role models of scholarship in their

departments as well as leaders in study

or research groups. They can give presentations


their research

experiences in

seminars and

can participate

in recruitment

initiatives by showing high school students

around their department. Juniors

or seniors can use their knowledge of

physics to tutor other students. Many

undergraduates enjoy participating in

outreach events. The most important

service activity undergraduates can do is

to take their studies seriously and to excel

in their courses so they can, in their

turn, contribute to society.

Long before I was inducted into

Sigma Pi Sigma, I thought it was important

to be involved in physics beyond the

classroom. As an undergraduate member

of the Society of Physics Students (SPS)

at the University of Miami, I had a blast

doing outrageous physics demonstrations

during the fall campus carnivals.

I also participated in the SPS tutoring

program for pre-med majors who

struggled with physics. Later, I helped

students learn the constellations on a

dark, windy roof at the University of

Texas when I was a graduate student.

I have engaged eager young children,

excited teens, and thrilled adults in

hands-on learning, at both the local

and national level, my entire career as a

physics faculty member. I have helped

Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts earn science

merit badges, have spent many years as a

docent at a local planetarium, and have

served as an advisor for the high school

math and science curriculum in my


Perhaps the most rewarding thing I

have done for our discipline has been to

serve as the Society of Physics Students/

Sigma Pi Sigma chapter advisor at Eastern

Michigan University. I have done so

for 27 years—a commitment that has

been only marginally shorter than my

marriage! One of my first students became

the SPS advisor when he joined the

faculty at another university. I am proud

to say that he has

done the job so

well that he was

chosen as the

SPS Outstanding

Chapter Advisor

seven years ago.

One of my more

recent students

has restarted a

dormant chapter

at his graduate

school. Several

members of his

When does

service as

a member

of Sigma Pi

Sigma begin

Right after

induction into

the society!

chapter won awards for their research

presentations at a Society of Physics

Students zone meeting.

I asked several alumni of the Eastern

Michigan University Sigma Pi Sigma

Spring 2012 Radiations 9

& Science


Chapter to tell me what they are doing

today to fulfill the mission of our society.

These people are amazing; I would

like to share some of their stories:

Dr. David Brown (inducted in

1985 as an undergraduate) is a professor

of physics at the University of

Louisville and was the recipient of

the university’s Distinguished Service

Award for Service to the Profession in

2010. This honor would not come as

a surprise to anyone who knows Dr.

Brown well. He truly did begin his

service to the profession immediately

after his induction into Sigma Pi Sigma

when he became the SPS/ΣΠΣ chapter

president and led the group for two

years while I was on a research leave;

he even arranged the Sigma Pi Sigma

induction ceremony in 1987. As a faculty

member, he has given back to his

profession, to his department, and to

the community in so many ways over

the past 16 years that it is impossible to

list all the service this remarkable man

has done. On the national scale, he has

volunteered at the American Physical

Society booth several times at the April

meetings as part

Long before I

was inducted

into Sigma

Pi Sigma, I

thought it was

important to

be involved in

physics beyond

the classroom.

of the Contact

Congress Initiative.

He is also

a member of

the Kentucky

State Science

Standards Work

Team that is

developing the

state’s new science


standards. In

2008, during his

tenure as the department

chair, he founded the Society

for Women in Physics and Astronomy

in the University of Louisville’s Physics

Department. Dr. Brown served as faculty

advisor for the Society of Physics

Students from 1997 to 2009, training

SPS students to go out into schools and

to do cool physics demos and to recruit

new majors. Under his leadership, the

Louisville chapter was selected as an

outstanding chapter for twelve consecutive

years; Dr. Brown received

the Outstanding

Chapter Advisor

Award in 2005.

In his spare

time, Dr. Brown

enjoys judging

at science

fairs and has

been the Head

Finals Judge for

the Louisville

Regional Science

Fair for the past


Dr. Bita Ghaffari (inducted in 1987

as an undergraduate) is a Technical

Expert in the Research & Advanced

Engineering organization at Ford Motor

Company. The organization is very

supportive of community service that

exposes students of all ages to the enormous

role of science and engineering in

our lives. Dr. Ghaffari has voluntarily

participated in “Take Our Children to

Work Day” by designing fun classes

and activities for her colleagues’ children

so they can understand their parents’

work and appreciate how much

science and engineering research goes

into the vehicles made by the Ford Motor

Company. Dr. Ghaffari also takes

part in the company’s High School

Science and Technology Program that

demonstrates to secondary students

the importance of science, mathematics,

and engineering in industry. The

goal is to influence students, especially

those from underrepresented groups, to

take college courses that will prepare

them for technical jobs. Dr. Ghaffari

regularly makes presentations to both

undergraduate and graduate students

on how her degrees in physics have

led to a fulfilling research career in an

industrial environment. The students

at the 2010 SPS Zone 7 Meeting truly

enjoyed her keynote address on this

topic. Dr. Ghaffari told me she “very

much hopes these activities benefit the

physics and research communities by

showing our youth that the admittedly

more difficult pursuit of a technical

career can be very satisfying.”

Dr. Beth Kubitskey (inducted

in 1990 as a graduate student) is an

Dr. Beth Kubitskey at the San Francisco Exploratorium.

Photo courtesy of Diane Jacobs.

assistant professor at Eastern Michigan

University and an officer in the

Detroit Metropolitan Physics Teacher

Association. She has had opportunities

to provide guidance for youth science

education programs in a variety of settings:

she has been a coach for Destination

Imagination, an extraordinary

extracurricular activity in which students

work in teams to develop creative

solutions to complex challenges; she

has helped plan and implement schoolwide

science days; and she has led

science programs in summer camps for

middle school children. Dr. Kubitskey

has developed materials for the in-service

training of middle school teachers,

which has expanded into a very large

project. She now designs and facilitates

statewide secondary science teacher

professional development to implement

reform-oriented science curricula. Dr.

Kubitskey said to me, “Participation in

Sigma Pi Sigma showed me the value

of membership in organizations with

a strong commitment to fellowship.

Sigma Pi Sigma models what is best

about being a member of a professional

community and the responsibilities

that come with such membership.”

Mr. Richard Mishler (inducted in

1990 as an undergraduate) is currently

a partner in an engineering consulting

firm in Detroit, Michigan, after a

20-year career as a “hidden physicist”

who has worked in various capacities as

an engineer. The most inspiring service

activity that he has told me about is his

decade-long work with Hope Clinic

International, an organization that

cares for desperately needy women and

children in Nicaragua and trains local

10 Radiations Spring 2012

people to provide medical assistance

when the foreign teams are not present.

2 Mr. Mishler’s responsibilities as

a volunteer project manager for this

organization include going to Nicaragua

ahead of medical personnel to

arrange logistics and to set up computer

network systems, which he takes

with him, for the doctors and nurses to

use once they arrive. He has delighted

me on several occasions with stories of

his ingenuity in getting his equipment

into very remote areas of Nicaragua.

However, it is his tales of ministration

to a group of people that would otherwise

have little access to modern health

care that are the most heartwarming.

Mr. Joseph Lowry (inducted in

1996 as a graduate student) is a fulltime

instructor at Oakland Community

College and has been involved

in outreach activities for many years.

During the normal school year, he goes

to three or four different elementary

schools and does science activities with

classes ranging from kindergarten to

eighth grade. He covers topics in both

physics and astronomy through demonstrations

and hands-on activities;

quite frequently undergraduates from

his classes help him with this service.

The past eight summers, Mr. Lowry

has also volunteered at a Girl Scout

camp where he works with 60 to 85

girls constructing scale models of the

solar system, building solar ovens, and

assembling individual compasses that

the campers use for navigation.

Several Eastern Michigan University

Sigma Pi Sigma alumni help the

next generation of physics students

Mr. Joseph Lowry demonstrating Faraday’s Law to elementary school children.

Photo courtesy of Diane Jacobs.

by tutoring. Mr. Timothy Marvin

(inducted in 1995 as an undergraduate)

volunteers as an algebra tutor for

a young man who left high school

without a diploma and who is now

studying for his GED. Mr. Steven

Schultz (inducted in 2011 as an

undergraduate) is one of the newest

members of our chapter who aids the

department by tutoring freshman- and

sophomore-level students. Mr. Marvin,

Mr. Schultz, and other alumni judge

at science fairs or participate in science

competitions such as the Science

Olympiad. Mr. Mark Creps (inducted

in 1997 as an undergraduate) works as

a technical expert for Elastizell Corporation

of America and had not used

his physics in the community until

one day when he played hockey with

a local high school teacher who was

organizing a science fair. The teacher

was looking for qualified judges and

was having difficulty finding experts

in physics and engineering. Mr. Creps

jumped at the chance to be a judge and

told me, “I think our input was valuable

to the students. Some needed help

with articulating the theory behind

their project and many needed help

with the scientific process.”

I have shared some of the service

activities of 4% of the Sigma Pi Sigma

alumni from my chapter, and my chapter

is only one out of 547 in the nation.

This should give us all a sense of the

power of ΣΠΣ to enrich the world, because

we realize that “Sigma Pi Sigma

promotes a spirit of community among

its members and encourages them to

offer their collective wisdom and perspectives

in the service of the larger society.”

3 I hope you will continue whatever

service you have been doing or, if

you have been waiting for the right opportunity,

I encourage you to contact

your local Sigma Pi Sigma chapter and

ask how you can be involved. The students


be excited

to learn how

your physics

degree prepared

you for

your professional


It would be

invaluable for

them to learn

that physicists

are employed

in many,

many different


some quite


The main

point is that it

doesn’t matter

where you are

I hope you will

continue whatever

service you

have been doing

or, if you have

been waiting

for the right

opportunity, I

encourage you to

contact your local

Sigma Pi Sigma

chapter and ask

how you can be


in your career as a student or a professional;

you can make a difference.

Even service you believe to be insignificant

can have a tremendous impact on

others and help you to learn something

about yourself. Through the practice of

continued service, and its rewards, you

can come to look at your contributions

as an essential component of what it

means to be a physicist. Einstein once

stated, “Only a life lived for others is a

life worthwhile,” 4 but I think Mahatma

Ghandi said it best: “Consciously or

unconsciously, every one of us does

render some service or other. If we

cultivate the habit of doing this service

deliberately, our desire for service will

steadily grow stronger, and will make,

not only our own happiness, but that

of the world at large.” 5 r






5. Easwaran, Eknath. Gandhi the Man: How One

Man Changed Himself to Change the World.

Nilgiri Press, CA, 2011.

Spring 2012 Radiations 11

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