Central Washington University (CWU) is a regional comprehensive university, with its main campus located in Ellensburg, WA. CWU has eight university centers located at community colleges around the state. There are about 8,500 students on the Ellensburg campus and 1,500 at the university centers. CWU certifies about 430 teachers per year with 30% being in some field of secondary education. Over the past three years, the natural sciences of biology, chemistry, earth science, and physics have certified an average of 10 students per year and the math department has certified 29 students per year.
The CWU physics department has averaged 5 graduates per year for the past three years. There are two degree tracks: BA for students interested in a strong physics background but who are interested in an allied field such as teaching; and a BS for students interested in graduate school or technical fields. The BS includes a dual degree physics/engineering program that results in a BS in physics from CWU and an engineering degree from the school the student transfers to. About 80% of CWU physics students earn a BS and 20% earn a BA. The CWU physics department has one adjunct and 3.5 tenure-track faculty members. The half-time tenured faculty member has a joint appointment in the science education department, also housed within the College of the Sciences.
Over the past five years, the number of physics majors has grown significantly. From the winter of 2007 to the winter of 2012, the number of students declaring a major in physics has increased from 21 to 71 while the number of students in the BA has risen from 4 to 12. This represents a significantly larger pool of physics teacher candidates to draw from.
In addition to an increase in the number of students in the department, there has been an increase in department quality as measured by the criteria used in SPIN-UP study. Ken Krane, one of the report’s authors, reviewed the department in both 2004 and 2009. He found the CWU Physics Department in many ways matches the standard U.S. criteria for “thriving” physics programs. After this strong review, and based on the success of a general education physics course designed for K-8 teacher candidates, the department revised its algebra and calculus-based physics sequences so they are taught using an integrated lecture-lab format, similar to what is supported by educational research. These smaller, more interactive sections will provide an effective training ground for physics teacher candidates. They will be able to work with students in an environment similar to a well-taught high school physics class.
During the course of the PhysTEC grant, CWU aims to increase the number of certified physics teacher candidates from one to three by meeting the following major goals:
CWU aims to streamline the pathway for future physics teachers who begin their education at a community college and transfer to the university. The university plans to work with community colleges to develop an advising template for a more efficient associate degree in math-physics teaching that would eventually be implemented in all community colleges in the state.
CWU also plans to interact with a variety of programs, both on and off campus. These include the Cornerstone Program, which facilitates the offering of college courses in the high school; the Supplemental Instruction Program, a national program that provides free, out-of-class study sessions led by a CWU undergraduate student who has already taken and excelled in the course; the Center for Excellence in Science and Mathematics Education, and the Science Education department, among others.