Selen named associate head for undergraduate programs


Siv Schwink

Professor Mats Selen was recently appointed associate head for undergraduate programs at Physics Illinois. His predecessor, Professor Kevin Pitts, who held the position since August 2010, is now serving as the College of Engineering’s associate dean for undergraduate programs. Selen’s appointment was announced January 22 by Department Head and Professor Dale Van Harlingen, just hours after the College of Engineering had announced its appointment of Pitts.

Selen said he expects a straightforward transition into the new position.

“Kevin did a great job in this role and he has handed over a very smooth operation. We are working together to make the transition as seamless as possible for students, faculty, and staff,” comments Selen. “Kevin and I are in close communication as he makes his transition to associate dean. He isn’t far away—just down the road,”

Selen said he plans to maintain the undergraduate student advisory board Pitts initiated and to put his full support behind the department’s undergraduate student groups.

 “It will be important for me to maintain strong communications with students in our programs, to understand how we can best enhance their undergraduate experience and best support their career aspirations,” comments Selen. “It’s a reflection of the strength of our undergraduate programs that we have very robust engagement in our student groups, including the Society for Undergraduate Women in Physics, the Society of Physics Students, and the Physics Van. These organizations provide wonderful opportunities for our students to network with each other and with aspiring physicists at other universities, to take on leadership roles, and to serve the greater community through educational outreach activities.”

A leading expert in physics education research, Selen sets a high priority on further developing and improving teaching methods and retention rates in the department’s undergraduate courses.

“This is really a big priority in our undergraduate program. We teach a very large number of Engineering and Liberal Arts and Sciences students and we want to give all of our students what they need for their futures, so they can enjoy the benefits of a solid foundation in physics—they are the problem solvers and innovators of tomorrow. And with their diverse career goals, it’s hard to have a one-size-fits-all classroom experience.

“We are currently exploring ways to broaden our approach in our introductory courses, so an even greater number of students can be successful. This is really a question for all STEM subjects—how do you reach students who work extremely hard but still are struggling—those are the ones who often end up dropping out.”

Selen says he is also mindful of the department’s commitment to provide enriching research experiences for its undergraduate majors.

“Undergraduate research experience gives students a real edge when they are applying to postgraduate programs. It’s important that our degree holders not only have a solid foundation in physics, but that they also are competitive in terms of having up-to-date research skills.”

Van Harlingen notes, “Mats is a highly regarded and respected educator and has been a major force in the development of our introductory courses and a pioneer in our outreach activities.  I look forward to working with Mats in his new role as associate head to manage our expanding enrollments and develop innovative ways to provide an exceptional physics education and attractive career opportunities to our students.”