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October 2006

Release Date: October 31, 2006

'Coach' Wallace Recruits Physics 'Players'

Just like the state's top football players are coveted by colleges and universities for their future team rosters, physics students are also in high demand, says Angelo State University Physics Department head Dr. Andrew Wallace, an active academic "recruiter."

Much the same way that coaches hunt for potential players, Wallace also sends out recruiting letters and makes trips to high school and junior college campuses to try to attract new "players" for ASU's award-winning Physics Department.

Wallace said his recruiting efforts begin soon after the fall semester starts when he gets a prospect list from the Office of Admissions and writes letters to the high school students about the opportunities available in his department. Those letters are followed up by phone and email in early November and again in December, encouraging prospects to visit the ASU campus in the spring. He also accompanies ASU admissions counselors on some of their trips to high schools and junior colleges around the state.

"When students are figuring out where they want to go to college, it's often hard for them to get specific information, to find someone to actually talk to them," said Wallace. "We try to put as much information into their hands as we can."

On their ASU campus visits, prospective students are given a tour of the facilities and the opportunity to meet with physics faculty and students.

"We have a high success rate with those students who actually visit," said Wallace. "Once they show up on campus, odds are they are coming here."

When he visits schools, Wallace sets up information tables, conducts physics demonstrations and takes along what he calls "science toys," like slide rules, Frisbees and Slinkies.

"That's your hook," he said. "Once I get them interested I answer a lot of questions about financial aid, SAT scores and degree plans. Many of them are like 'Wow, someone finally answered my questions on how do I get started, what do I do."

One such student was ASU senior Andy Russell of Breckenridge, who was recruited by Wallace in 2002. After relaying information on various aspects of the physics program, other student success stories and available scholarships, Wallace invited Russell to campus.

"When I came, Dr. Wallace and Dr. (David) Bixler personally showed me around the department and the rest of the campus," said Russell. "I was really impressed because when I had visited larger campuses, the professors seemed burdened to even speak to me, yet these guys were actually giving me a campus tour themselves. When I received two scholarships to ASU, one of them being the physics scholarship, that sealed the deal."

So why are these recruiting efforts so important? When Wallace became the department head in 1998 the number of entering freshman had been on the decline since 1993. The department now graduates an average of eight physics majors a year, which puts ASU in the top third of colleges nationwide. The department was also recognized by Physics Today magazine in 2003 as one of the top undergraduate physics programs in the country.

"If we hadn't started the recruiting and kept it going, we probably would not have a physics major at ASU anymore," said Wallace. "We'd have probably merged with another department and be just teaching service type courses like astronomy and geology."

Instead, the Department of Physics continues to grow and diversify, offering majors in physics and applied physics, special academic scholarships, teaching certifications and a new minor in earth science. Wallace said the physics curriculum puts students on track for graduate schools in physics, engineering and computer science, for medical school, for careers as industry physicists and teachers and for modern technology jobs. The earth science minor helps prepare students for environmental-based careers and can be combined with any major on campus.

Russell plans to take his applied physics degree from ASU and head to medical school, where he is sure Wallace will keep tabs on him.

"On my visit Dr. Wallace took me into his office and pulled out a scrapbook that had almost all of his past graduates," said Russell. "He has kept up with them to see how they were doing and to help them if needed."

Despite past successes, Wallace continues to try to find new ways to recruit majors for his department. Already, students from Wall, Christoval, Water Valley and Eldorado science classes make monthly visits to ASU for instruction and experiments, just like specialized sports camps.

His latest strategy is to access the listings of students taking the Advanced Placement Test for physics in Texas and New Mexico.

"It's getting harder to get into high school classrooms because of the time taken up for TAKS testing," said Wallace. "So, we are going after these students very aggressively."

Prospective students can also get the ball rolling by calling the Department of Physics at 942-2242 and setting up their own campus visits. In the mean time, "coach" Wallace will continue his efforts to nab the top prospects in the region for his team.

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