NewsNational News


Black Society of Physicists at Old Dominion University looking for mentors in Virginia

Posted at 1:51 PM, Sep 22, 2020

NORFOLK, Va. - An Old Dominion University student wants to see more African-American Physicists.

She and others are making efforts to make this a reality and they are looking for mentors in the Hampton Roads community.

“I love Accelerated Physics,” Kat Watkins, a junior at ODU said. She is passionate about physics and has been since childhood.

She recently started the group Society of Black Physicists at ODU.

The American Institute of Physics found that fewer than four percent of bachelor’s degrees went to black students for Physics and there's a nationwide effort to change this and to increase the number of African American Physicists.

“Knowing all of this, hearing these numbers and being in a very small population of people, it's very hard to find the representation,” said Watkins.

With the support of her adviser Dr. Matthew Nerem, an ODU Professor, and other students, she created the organization.

“To provide a place for a person of color to feel home, you may be the only one in your class, you may be the only one that you see, but your experience is not singular, you're not alone. So that's why I started S.B.P.,” said Watkins.

Physics student Jade Hooper is also part of the group. “Right now, I'm pretty much, if not in all of my classes, most of them, not just the only black female, but the only black person in the classroom and so from that standpoint, it kind of puts me in a position where sometimes I don't feel comfortable,” said Hooper, “My colleagues who are not the minority, they never have to go into a classroom or a building and wonder am I going to be the only white person in the classroom.”

“If we want to have a proper representation, based on the population size, we need to bring up the number of Ph.D... by like almost eight times,” said Dr. Nerem.

Watkins said her group is looking for mentors throughout the Hampton Roads region to help the students. She said the students also are looking at ways to reach children in hopes of getting kids interested in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math.

“We really just want to spread our roots out into the community,” said Watkins, “We want to inspire little ones. We want to inspire young minds too.”

“It’s very important that these teens and the students can see a representation, somebody like me and Kat who will make it in this field so that they have somebody to look up to,” said Hooper.

“Studying physics just gives people the opportunity to try and explore the universe, what we're composed of,” said Dr. Nerem.

You don't have to be African American to join the group or mentor, you just need to support their mission: "The mission of the Society of Black Physicists is to promote the professional development and well-being of ethnic minority STEM students within the international scientific community and within society at large. SBP seeks to develop and support efforts to increase opportunities for ethnic minorities and People of Color in physics and to increase their numbers and visibility of their scientific work. It also seeks to develop activities and programs that highlight and enhance the benefits of the scientific contributions that People of Color provide for the international community."

“I would love to come back in 20 years to ODU and walk into the mathematical methods of physics class and see half of the class be people of color, that will be incredible. That would be awesome,” said Watkins.

Click here to learn more and to visit their website.

This story was first reported by Margaret Kavanagh at WTKR in Norfolk, Virginia.