Physics is a living discipline that can and should be rooted in the fight for human dignity and social justice.
(Intro to Electronics Spring 2016, Spring 2018-2020)
I teach my Electronics class as a community partnership course, in which we partner with the Fremont Femineers(TM), a group of 9th-12th grade girls who are aspiring engineers from a highly segregated, under-resourced public school, the Fremont Academy of Engineering and Design.
(Note: The Femineer(TM) Program was created and funded by Cal Poly Pomona’s College of Engineering in 2013. I am working with a chapter at the Fremont Academy.)
The goals of these partnerships are multilayered.
Clearly, the immediate goal is to partner with the local community, supporting an incredible group of smart, resilient young women in their educational goals by breaking down some of the barriers that can prevent young people from seeing themselves as successful, college-bound students. But these courses are equally transformative for the college students involved, enabling them to see the essential humanity of physics, challenging stereotypes, building community, deepening their understanding of the systematic inequities built into our discipline and higher education in general, and empowering students to act as change agents. Furthermore, for many of the women and students of color in my classes, participating in our community partnership course is the first – and for many of them will be the last – time they have ever been in a majority environment in a physics classroom.
Our community partnership courses are focused on combining reflection with action.
The action part is straightforward – and a lot of fun. The links to photos and articles above give a sense of the action piece. Each semester, we pick a fun, engaging, and challenging engineering project that meets the academic goals of both of the partners; so far, we have built swarmbots that interact autonomously to complete a cooperative task, launched a weather balloon into the stratosphere to measure LA area pollution, built electronically-enabled-Lego creations controlled by Arduinos, did wearable tech project, and are currently building and programming Raspberry Pi based robots. The Femineers and the Pomona College students work in small mixed teams on these projects, which serve as a vehicle for achieving many of the goals outlined above.
The reflection piece is achieved by asking students to complete weekly readings-and-reflections, together with classroom discussion. By way of example, a sample curriculum is outlined below; each topic includes readings and reflection questions, to which students respond in writing and then discuss in class.
- Week 1: Inclusive pedagogy
- Week 2: Community partnership courses
- Week 3: Effects of racial segregation
- Week 4: Educational segregation and inequity
- Week 5: Latino education in California
- Week 6: Feminist physics
- Week 7: Firsthand perspectives: black STEM students
- Week 8: Firsthand perspectives: women of color in physics
- Week 9: Firsthand perspectives: queer STEM students
- Week 10: Reflecting on our partnership
- Week 11: Reflecting on community building
- Week 12: Connecting reflection and action
- Week 13: Putting it all together
Our partnership extends beyond the classroom in increasingly rich ways.
As our partnership continues to mature, it has grown in unexpected ways. At the request of the Femineers(TM) themselves, we have added summer internships. Last year, 12 Femineers(TM) worked alongside faculty members and undergraduate researchers in science labs at Pomona College for a month. We have also started to build bridges with college access programs such as Pomona College’s PAYS program and the Scripps College Academy, which offer invaluable, high-impact college preparation and access. In addition, Pomona College students offer after school SAT prep assistance and application guidance.
(And, finally, a huge thank you to the Pomona College Draper Center for Community Partnerships for supporting this partnership.)