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Report of the PAAAB for 2009

Monday, May 11, 2009

Date: May 11, 2009

Memo to: Steve Sanders, Chair; Department of Physics and Astronomy

From: Physics and Astronomy Alumni Advisory Board (PAAAB); Thomas P. Armstrong, Chair

Membership of PAAAB includes: Bill Anderson, Bruce Barrett, John Beacom, Mike Hennessy, Mona Kessel, Warren Legler, Colleen McKee, Richard Sapp, Joe Shields and Ed Sion.

Subject: Report of May 10, 2009 Meeting

The Board expresses its appreciation for the hospitality shown by Department faculty, staff, and students in making our meeting productive, enjoyable, and efficient.

“Charter” of the Board

It’s important to keep in mind the intended purpose of the Board--namely, to provide extra-departmental perspective and insights on issues of importance and concern to the Department.  Our comments are intended as helpful advice insofar as the Board is qualified and situated to render such advice.  Our remarks will be focused and brief for obvious reasons.

  1. Morale.  Student, staff and faculty morale continues to be positive and strong. PAAAB is favorably impressed by the evident cooperative and constructive attitudes of faculty toward each other, the Department, and the University.  Department and CLAS leadership should be commended for fostering excellent morale.
  2. Infrastructure.   The status of network bandwidth and wireless capability in Malott Hall appears to be significantly deficient.  GRID computing requiring much higher than presently available bandwidth is expected to be a necessary and routine component of event analyses required as operations of the CMS experiment at the CERN LHC begin—possibly as soon as September 2009.  PAAAB understands that the University administration has begun steps to remedy this problem and expresses its support that urgent measures be undertaken immediately.  Video, audio, and network supported teleconferencing has become a routine and necessary component of science and engineering research operations.  Malott Hall appears to lack sufficient capacity to support teleconferencing.
  3. Staffing.   PAAAB strongly endorses the Department’s request for an endowed professorship dedicated to leading the multi-department, multi-university initiative in developing new technologies for energy conversion and storage—especially along lines where existing departmental strengths in nanostructures can be exploited.   PAAAB notes with approval that the Department’s initiative in biophysics appears to be in good hands and is moving forward appropriately.
  4. Financials.   PAAAB interviewed Dean Joe Steinmetz and Associate Dean Rob Weaver and received very sobering assessments of the expected levels of State support for the University, CLAS, and Department.   It appears to PAAAB that wise and thoughtful consideration has been given to the allocation of scarce State resources.  It is a hopeful and positive prospect that the Department may be able to resume a presently suspended search for an additional faculty member.  PAAAB recognizes that difficult choices have been thrust upon the CLAS and expresses confidence in the leadership of Dean Steinmetz.
  5. Planning.  The Department needs more office and laboratory space in Malott Hall.  It is especially important that the Department describe its needs thoroughly and express them persuasively with sufficient detail to assure that its needs are accommodated at the earliest opportunity.  Upcoming vacancies represent such an opportunity.
  6. Instructional program and recruiting.   The PAAAB notes that the Department has made important improvements to its graduate program organization.  Newly installed procedures to more closely manage student progress toward degree completion may reduce the calendar time required.  Spoken English proficiency requirements imposed on TA appointments prevent the recruiting of otherwise highly qualified graduate students.  The Department is seeking alternative support for the initial enrollments of non-native English speaking graduate students in the form of fellowships.  PAAAB may be able to assist in the acquisition of funds for this purpose.  PAAAB supports the Department’s request for endowment funds to support at least two continuing fellowships for this purpose.  That the Department enjoys important successes in the advising and mentoring of graduate students was excellently illustrated in the presentations to the Board by students Justace Clutter in particle physics and Brian Ruzicka solid state.
  7. Student career development.   The PAAAB suggests that the Department consider initiating a structured and supervised internship program for undergraduate and graduate majors including full-time summer and part-time academic year work at off-campus locations and enterprises could be available to interested and qualified students.  Should the Department choose to do this, the PAAAB would be pleased to assist.