Awardee: Janice Hudgings, Seeley W. Mudd Professor of Physics
Teaching Assistants: Aman Desai (Pomona ’21), Christina Dong (Pomona ’22), and Michael Lee (Claremont McKenna ’23)
Title: Physics 50: Robotics with a Purpose
Goal: To develop PHYS 50: Robotics with a Purpose as a more inclusive pathway into the physics and astronomy majors
With the demographics of students majoring in physics and astronomy at Pomona College being similar to those nationwide—with women and students of color severely underrepresented—Janice Hudgings sought to develop a new, more inclusive path to the majors. The first step was determining the root of the problem. Thus, the department conducted an extensive, demographically disaggregated study of retention throughout the first two years of the physics major courses. They discovered they were failing to attract a diverse population of students into the very first course of the program: PHYS 70. To address this problem, Hudgings’s project set out to establish a second introductory course, Physics 50, which ran in parallel with Physics 70 for the first time in Fall 2021. PHYS 50 would give students the opportunity to collaborate on designing and building microcontroller-based electronics projects (drones) while also engaging with the principles of identity, social justice, and collaborative leadership.
Prior to course development, Hudgings consulted with RITG to discuss innovative pedagogies. She learned ways to leverage new teaching strategies, balance asynchronous and synchronous learning, and introduce some deeper forms of assessment.
With these new approaches in mind, she leaned on RITG to determine which drone models would best meet students’ needs and to discuss other technical aspects of the course. Hudgings also hired two student assistants over the summer to help develop the course. The students provided drone-programming expertise, offered creative ways to use drones to explore basic physics topics, and helped develop curricular materials.
From the start, Physics 50 was designed with equity and inclusion in mind, grounded in evidence-based research. For example, whereas most Physics 70 students have already taken high school physics and calculus, Physics 50 has no prerequisites and instead uses a fun and engaging vehicle for developing the math, physics, and programming skills needed to thrive in the physics and astronomy majors.
Furthermore, Physics 50 was developed as a community partnership course, with 9 Pomona College students collaborating with 30 Femineers, a group of STEM-interested Latina 9th-12th grade students at the Pomona Unified School District. Additionally, Hudgings worked with Dylan Worcester in the Pomona College Quantitative Skills Center (QSC) to recruit incoming first-year women, students of color, and first-generation and/or low-income (FLI) students.
Physics 50 was designed to be a majority-minority course with a strong focus on developing a feminist, anti-racist learning collaborative in the classroom. That is precisely what happened and something Hudgings hopes to build upon for years to come as she continuously improves the course.