NASA Connection Proves Successful in Recruitment of Students to Physics and Engineering Major

Wednesday, January 22nd, 2014

The physics and engineering labs at West Virginia Wesleyan College are booming, but not in the way one may think.  There are currently 97 students majoring in either Physics or the Dual-Degree Engineering program, which is an increase from 82 majors last year.  Dr. G. Albert Popson, Jr., department chair and professor of physics and engineering, believes the strong program incentives are what are attracting so many students to the program.

Dr. Chad Smith '03 drops by the Physics and Engineering Department to advise Dr. Popson on their wind tunnel project. Smith earned his Ph.D. in Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering from the University of Virginia as part of the Wesleyan Dual-Degree Engineering program.

“Our NASA affiliation attracts quite a few students to our program,” stated Popson.  “Other students are attracted by the Dual-Degree Engineering Program articulation agreements we have with WVU, UVA, and Virginia Tech.”

Wesleyan’s affiliation with NASA benefits both the faculty and students.  This year, eleven physics students benefited from NASA Fellowships, which provided funding for research with Wesleyan faculty. Last summer, six physics students benefited from NASA funding for research. The faculty benefit from NASA funding for research, new educational initiatives, and community outreach.  Faculty NASA research has included collaborations with nearby universities and local industries, summer projects at NASA facilities, and enhancements to projects at Wesleyan.

“We had ten students that we paid to work on research projects at the College last summer, as well as at NASA-Langely, NASA-Glenn, and Penn State,” remarked Popson.  “A group of students is involved in a special NASA space systems course, and they plan to launch their apparatus into Earth orbit in about six months.”

The Dual-Degree Engineering program is designed for students who want to prepare for careers in engineering by starting their studies at a small college rather than a large university.  After three years at Wesleyan, the student transfers to one of the articulation universities. After about two years at the university, the student earns both a physics degree from Wesleyan and the university’s engineering degree. Employers value the special skills a student learns at a liberal arts college.

Popson has also found that another big draw for students is the fact they can attend Wesleyan and receive a top-notch physics or engineering degree while still having the opportunity to feed their co-curricular hunger.

“Quite a few of our students participate in sports, band, chorale, theater, and student government,” commented Popson.  “Many students are interested in starting their study of engineering at a small school, where they have smaller classes and get to know their teachers.”

For more information on the physics or engineering majors at West Virginia Wesleyan College, please contact Dr. Bert Popson at popson@wvwc.edu or 304-473-8070.