Life as a University of Puget Sound Physics Major – By Sophia Pettitt-Kenney

While I certainly can’t presume to speak for every physics major, past, present, and future, at the University of Puget Sound, I can discuss my own experiences of my time here at the school and within the physics department.

When I came to UPS nearly four years ago, I was entirely uncertain about what my path would be. I was interested in STEM, physics specifically, but I was also interested in politics, writing, and environmental science and policy. I was also intimidated, remembering the words I’d been hearing throughout my years of high school, “college is hard,” and the words I heard whenever I told an adult I was interested in physics, “physics is hard”. For that reason, I spent my first year the way most people spend their first year at UPS, knocking out core requirements and trying to get a feel of what I liked and what I was good at. The core requirements at the university include the seminars in scholarly inquiry (SSIs), mathematics approaches, natural scientific approaches, social scientific approaches, humanistic approaches, artistic approaches, foreign language proficiency, knowledge, identity, and power (KNOW) requirement, and the connections requirement. After my first semester, I decided that I liked physics enough to at least continue with it for another semester and I declared my physics major in the beginning of my sophomore year.

To me, physics was the most interesting subject I could find, I loved learning about the ways in which the universe worked and being able to model and predict it too. Learning about physics felt like the closest I’d come to learning magic and while it’s certainly true that physics is hard, I discovered within myself the ability to accomplish hard things and solve difficult problems. This is another reason why I love physics so much, it creates space for creative problem solving and teaches you how to approach problems of any kind in a way that makes them easier and more fun to solve. I love the ways in which physics has expanded my mind and more than that, I love making connections across disciplinary lines.

What I love most about UPS as a school is the emphasis placed on liberal arts. While I was taking lots of physics and math classes, I had the time and the opportunity to take lots of other classes outside of the world of STEM. I took poetry writing, ceramics, philosophy of mind, international environmental policy, and ethics, just to name a few. All of these classes allowed me to explore my non-STEM interests, and opened me up to new perspectives too. Even better, was that physics came up in some way, shape, or form in every single one of these classes and I was able to offer unique insights and perspectives to those classes because of my background in it.

This isn’t to say that college as a physics major or in general is all just really awesome insights and learning and understanding everything on the first try, I’ve faced many challenges throughout my time here and many of them felt insurmountable when I was first facing them. Luckily, there are amazing resources at Puget Sound. The Center for Writing, Learning, and Teaching (CWLT) is a great place to get help in any subject and the math department has additional tutors as well. Professors in the physics department are all extremely kind and dedicated and put in so much work to make sure that every student understands the material and has the opportunity to thrive. My favorite resource by far, has simply been my peers though. The people who started out as my classmates in my first year, have become some of my closest friends and working out homework problems together in the physics resource room have been some of my best learning experiences and have formed bonds that will last a long time to come.

The community of the University of Puget Sound and specifically the community of the physics department have created a space that has nurtured my learning, and growth in all areas and there are many lessons that I will take with me. The opportunities and resources that have come with being at a small liberal arts institution, like building a nuclear reactor, have made my time here extremely memorable and valuable.