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‘Physics Summer Camp’ attracts high schoolers


Many people may not know what physics is or what graduates can do with a degree in physics, but New Mexico State University wants to help high school students in the region learn more about it through the Department of Physics’ annual “Physics Summer Camp.”

A degree in physics can open a world of careers – from computer science to engineering to astrophysics – and lead to top government and industry jobs earning upwards of $100,000 a year.

The earlier students start, the more likely they are to succeed. This week in Gardiner Hall, NMSU physics students are leading a select group of high schoolers through lectures, lab tours and hands-on activities for multiple physics disciplines such as mechanics, electricity and magnetism, thermodynamics and nuclear physics, as well as related sciences including chemistry, astronomy and geology. The camp, run by the Society of Physics Students, is free and open to all high school students in the region.

SPS hosted “Physics Summer Camp” for more than ten years before the pandemic shut it down in 2020.  For the last two years, faculty and student organizers have been working to bring it back and increase attendance.

“We're trying to make it a much more immersive experience,” said physics junior and SPS member Z Burns. “The main idea behind the summer camp is to showcase what studying physics at NMSU looks like, so we want to make it as close to our physics program as possible.”

Nora Nava is an SPS member and a senior who will graduate this summer with a bachelor’s degree in physics and a minor in astronomy. Fostering a sense of community for the next generation of NMSU students is her focus when it comes to leading the summer camp.

“I think it's important that high schoolers know that this is happening here, and they can join us and be with people their age that share their interests in these fields,” Nava said. “It’s so different from what they might experience in high school and will hopefully lead to them joining one of our programs when they graduate.”

During his time at NMSU, physics lab instructor and laboratory manager Francisco Carreto-Parra has seen high school student participants return to NMSU a few years later as physics students.

“Seeing them again as NMSU students active in our department means we are meeting our objective here completely,” Carreto-Parra said. “Thanks to the work of our undergraduates, we reach that level of success.”

“For me, it’s about being invested in your department and wanting to be a part of its success,” Burns added.

Throughout the academic year, SPS, the Society for Engineering and Physics and the Physics Graduate Student Organization collaborate to develop outreach and recruitment activities. Earlier this semester, these students coordinated “Physics Fun Day” for local children and families, as well as three K-12 outreach projects funded by the American Physical Society. Every event is free to encourage community participation.

“Everybody is welcome here,” Carreto-Parra said. “We are part of this community, and we want to provide our knowledge and tools to as many people as we can.”