Issue 1, Volume 1
September 2007

The Compass Project Helps Incoming Physics Majors Find Their Way

A group of dynamic Physics grad students, including Badr Faisal Albanna, Hal Haggard, Angie Little and Benji Aleman, know what it’s like to be incoming freshmen interested in the physical sciences — daunting. The rigors of a major in Physics, Astronomy or EPS can be a shock to the system, and many freshmen struggle to get through their first year. So, this group of graduate students decided to start the Compass Project, a program that creates a welcoming community for undergraduates from a wide variety of backgrounds interested in the physical sciences. The ultimate aim of this program is to increase the diversity of the physical science departments here at Berkeley. The Compass Program launched this summer with a two week program for incoming freshmen that concluded on August 17th, just as Welcome Week began. In addition to introducing the students to other incoming freshmen, the program welcomed the students into the physical science departments at Berkeley. From the nanoscale research of Professor Alex Zettl’s group to questions about the formation of galaxies in the universe, Compass students got a taste of all that the physical sciences have to offer.

Over the two week program, the Compass students and teachers focused on one question pertinent to the entire Berkeley community: "What are earthquakes and what do they tell us about the interior of the earth?" In the process of trying to answer difficult questions about earthquakes and elastic waves, students gained valuable insights into the mathematics they will see over the next few years and developed skills essential for pursuing a degree in Physics and related disciplines. Most importantly, by working with each other and the Compass staff, the students began to see themselves as scientists, perched close to the edge of human knowledge about the natural world. As one Compass participant Kevin Cuevas put it, "The Compass summer program was the best way to start college. Friends and community, along with physics and astronomy, make the best combination for students interested in the physical sciences!"

With the first summer program complete, the Compass Project plans to stay with this group of freshmen during their first year at college. The project will develop a mentoring program and will provide opportunities for the Compass students to meet with some of the distinguished professors in the Physics department. Students will deepen their exposure to research work with lab tours spanning in Physics and Astronomy. The Compass grad student-instructors hope that these connections will not only peak the students’ curiosity, but will eventually result in Compass students participating in research as early as freshman year.

Physics home | Hellman | Liphardt | Compass