The Access Assembly made it possible for me to visit the ASU Sundial program for several days in order to learn about their summer program. Each year, the Sundial team works hard to put together a set of lessons and projects on an interesting topic (e.g. exoplanets) along with fun social activities for incoming freshmen so that they have a stronger sense of community and a reliable toolset to tackle their first year of college. Sundial was generous enough to welcome me and Charles from the Polaris program at OSU during their “crunch week”, in which they finalized and practiced their projects for the upcoming summer program. Polaris is hoping to implement a similar event next year, so the opportunity to learn about Sundial’s program was extremely helpful! It gave us a much better idea of what to expect and how to prepare. The advice we received from Dr. Anna Zaniewski and her team of facilitators about how to create effective and inclusive lessons will go a long way toward making Polaris’s program better. I can’t thank the Access Assembly and the Sundial team enough for giving Polaris this opportunity.
Reflection on the Planning Retreat for Sundial’s Early Start ProjectMy name is Charles Woodrum, and I am a graduated senior from Ohio State who studies physics and mathematics. I’m a member of the leadership team for OSU Polaris, a group of STEM students at Ohio State who wish to improve diversity in our respective programs. As one of the newer sites in the Access Network, we are seeking to expand and provide more opportunities for OSU students. Last year we began offering a class that students could enroll in, and our next project seeks to create a summer program at OSU, known as the Undergraduate Residential Summer Access (URSA) Program, that would offer students an early start. For students, this would provide the opportunity to hit the ground running, introducing preliminary knowledge of early coursework, a familiarity with problems solving and other essential skills, and initial connections with fellow physics students. However, the logistics of planning such an extensive program were daunting, and it became clear that the leadership team of Polaris would need guidance from outside if this program would be possible. Luckily, the Access Network connects newer sites like ours to more developed sites, and reserves travel grants for members to visit other networks for this purpose. The Sundial Program at Arizona State University has a well-developed early start program with a week immediately before the students arrive devoted to finishing all preparations for course materials. I had the pleasure of attending this development week with Kirsten Casey, a fellow member of the Polaris leadership team and a graduate student at OSU. After arriving from the airport and becoming used to the incredible heat and soon after learning that not all species of aloe are edible, we began work with all the students and faculty who were preparing the material. The curriculum focused on introducing concepts like coding and basic experimentation with interactive experiments that could be performed with the guidance of a few instructors. Our task in observing was to document the methods and activities that were being prepared. In addition to learning about the methods behind preparing the basic material for the labs, I learned that it is absolutely essential to practice every part of the activities while they’re being developed with the aid of fellow instructors playing the role of students. This practice gives the presenters the opportunity to practice explanations and instructions while also exposing flaws and any issues with the initial ideas. Notably, I helped develop a game to explore the use of loops and python, while also learning about the lessons by playing the role of a student more times than I could count for the benefit of the instructors who would be leading the labs. Kirsten and I left Arizona with pages upon pages of notes about Sundial’s program, and we look forward to disseminating this information with the leadership team at OSU. This was a fantastic use of both our time and the network’s travel grants, and I believe the exchange was greatly beneficial to both sites.