Experiential Learning at its Best: Physics Research Program Gives AU Student Opportunity to Gain Experience, Build ‘Foundation of Peers’

By Jill Wilson | August 27, 2021
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Augustana student Tiana Townsend ‘22, of Sioux Falls, is a physics and ACS chemistry double major, who is also minoring in mathematics. Townsend participated in Augustana’s Q&As about students’ experiential learning opportunities while interning with the Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) program at Kansas State University in Manhattan, Kansas, over the summer. She is planning on continuing her education by attending graduate school in the fall of 2022 — hoping to earn her Ph.D. in physics or chemistry.

Q: What extracurricular activities are you involved in?

A: I was recently voted the president of both the Augustana chapters of the Student Members of the American Chemical Society (SMACS) and Society of Physics Students (SPS). I’m also a TA (teaching assistant) and tutor for physics and work in Recreational Services at the Elmen Center.

Q: Where or how did you hear about Augustana?

A: I grew up in Sioux Falls, hearing about and sometimes participating in Augie events.

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Q: What is/are the reason(s) you chose to come to Augustana?

A: Living in Sioux Falls, I heard a lot of stories about the academic prestige Augustana offers alongside the smaller classroom sizes and the genuine relationships students have with their professors. It was a culture I was excited, and am now proud, to be a part of.

Q: What do your job duties include?

A: My job includes participating in atomic, molecular and optical (AMO) physics research in James R. Macdonald Laboratory under Professor (of Physics) Dr. Itzik Ben-Itzhak. I will be participating in several experiments in the lab, as well as completing data analysis on these experiments.

Q: How did you get the internship? Did anyone help you? What did that journey look like?

A: I was accepted into this REU program after applying through the link listed on the National Science Foundation (NSF) website. The application process involved a cover letter and diversity statement, as well as general information regarding my academic success as a student. Dr. Eric Wells, my research advisor from Augustana under whom I worked both the summer of 2019 and 2020, was a significant help in the REU application process. I applied for the REU program in late January and received my acceptance in mid-April.

Q: What do you like most about your internship?

A: In the REU program, I have most enjoyed learning about graduate school expectations, exposure to jobs within the field in which I am interested and the camaraderie with my fellow REU students.

Q: What do you hope to learn/gain from the internship?

A: I am hoping to gain a significant amount of applicable experience from this program, as well as a foundation of peers within my field. 

Q: Why is experiential learning important for future endeavors?

A: The skills that I am learning as a research student are problems and concepts which will appear in all areas of my future career. It is invaluable to be able to experience these questions in a research environment as part of an REU program.

Q: How important is building relationships/connections?

A: Building relationships and connections with peers, as well as advisors, are hugely important to success within a research setting. Learning how to work together on a demanding project and allowing for other perspectives to improve your work are some of the long-term benefits of building work-oriented relationships. However, the progress one can make as part of a team, the resulting career advances and the friends one makes in the process are important aspects of beginning in a field.

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