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PhySU receives the ASSU’s Sanjeev Dewett Course Union of the Year Award


The Department of Physics congratulates the Physics’ Student Union (PhySU) for winning the 2022-2023 ASSU’s Sanjeev Dewett Course Union of the Year Award! This award is presented annually to the most active Course Union in Arts and Science Students’ Union (ASSU). The recipients are active in all aspects of the academic life.

Katerina Benevides, who is the PhySU President, is thrilled about this achievement and shared her thoughts about it with us in an interview:

1. Can you tell us a little bit about what led to PhySU receiving this award?

The Physics Student Union has been working tirelessly to provide students with valuable academic and social experiences throughout the academic year. Our union has been very active in organizing events and initiatives that foster a sense of community among students, including social events like HallAUween, a collaborative effort between Physics and the Astronomy Union, Liquid Nitrogen Ice Cream sales, as well as academic events like review sessions and hosting faculty talks such as the PhySU Talk Series. We have also been working closely with Department staff to advocate for student needs and promote academic success. Alongside this, we recruited volunteers to get more bodies engaged with the events and feel included.

Our course union was also extremely active during the monthly Arts and Science Student Union council meetings, which encouraged connections with other course unions and student groups on campus. This was an opportunity to share our ideas and initiatives, also giving us a platform to advertise the Physics Student Union and the resources and support we offer to students. This helped us become more influential and recognized amongst other student unions and we believe it played a significant role in us being awarded the Course Union of the Year award.

2. What inspired PhySU to pursue this work or achievement?

Our inspiration for pursuing the work that led to winning this award came from a very pure and unadulterated passion for creating a supportive and engaging community for physics students. We recognized that the transition to a university can be challenging, and we wanted to provide a space for students to connect with one another and access the resources and support they need to succeed academically and personally. Studying physics at a university does not have to be all work and no play, leading to us trying very hard to get out of the online space we were in while COVID-19 was running rampant.

We were extremely motivated by the unique challenges that COVID-19 presented to students and student organizations. We knew that many students were feeling isolated and disconnected due to the pandemic, and we wanted to find new and innovative ways to support our community during this very difficult time. This led us to develop new events and initiatives, such as in-person chess, a Super Smash Brothers tournament, a foosball tournament, and a rave event which took the university by storm. We are proud that students were able to connect and socialize in a safe, accepting, and open environment.

3. What challenges did PhySU face during the process of achieving this award?

Since we were often involved in a wide range of activities and initiatives, it was challenging to balance the demands of different projects and programs, while also ensuring that the needs of students were being met. In order to be successful, we needed to build support and engagement among our members and the broader student body. This required effective communication and outreach strategies, as well as a willingness to take feedback and address concerns. Speaking on communication, we needed to navigate complex university or college bureaucracies in order to access funding, resources, or support for initiatives. This required persistence, diplomacy, and effective relationship-building skills.

Another major challenge that we faced, and are still working on addressing, is the demographic of the PhySU community not being quite as diverse as some other communities. It appears that our diversity stems to a large extent from the low diversity within the physics student population. Fortunately, our events this year have seen an increase in new faces and greater participation, proving that our efforts have not gone in vain. Achieving recognition or awards requires overcoming obstacles and setbacks such as unexpected challenges, resistance from others, or unexpected changes in circumstances. This necessitated resilience, adaptability, and a willingness to learn from our mistakes and setbacks in order to improve and move forward.

4. What impacts does PhySU hope to make through your work or achievement?

We hope our work can contribute to increasing access to information and promoting education while building a sense of community through the continuation of organizing activities that supplement coursework, such as guest lectures, study groups, and other social events. Encouraging participation and fostering a supportive environment, we hope to help students feel more connected to one another and to the broader university community. We also promote professional development, building the skills and experiences students need to succeed in their future courses or careers involving workshops and seminars on topics such as Mathematica, Python, and LaTeX. We are proud advocates for student rights and interests of physics students in the physics lounge and on our social media platforms, and to ensure that their voices are heard in decision-making processes that affect their education and well-being. We hope to engage with the broader community, by organizing events and activities that promote science education and outreach in collaboration with other course unions with which our community overlaps, such as the Astronomy and Math Unions to name a few.

5. What advice would you give to someone who aspired to achieve a similar recognition?

Your goal should not be winning the award, but instead trying to enhance and make a difference in the community. Having a confident and resilient mindset is extremely valuable. Remember that setbacks and challenges are a natural part of any journey towards success. Be prepared to face obstacles along the way, and be willing to adapt and learn from your experiences by staying resilient, staying positive, and working diligently towards your goals. Have a list of clear, achievable goals for yourself and create a plan for how you will get there. This will likely involve breaking your goal down into smaller, more manageable steps. Achieving recognition requires not only hard work, dedication and time commitment, but also effective communication with the student body. It is essential to make strong interpersonal connections with your peers, to be able to channel your efforts on issues most relevant to the present moment. Look for opportunities to get involved whether that is through throwing ideas into the air about events or support systems, especially inter-departmental so they know more about your workings. Building strong relationships with mentors, peers, and other professionals in your field can be extremely valuable. Seek out opportunities to have discussions with your department, not only for them to get to know you better, but also help endorse your projects and with anything that you may need from them.

From left to right, Kat Benevides (PhySU President), Samuel Lakerdas-Gayle (PhySU VP Communications), Aditya Khandelwal (PhySU VP Social Events), Amelie Zhang (PhySU VP Academic Affairs)

6. How do you plan to continue your work or improve upon your achievement in the future?

Winning the course union of the year award is a significant achievement and brings about a sense of pride and accomplishment not just for the PhySU executives but the physics student body as a whole. However, it also comes with its own set of challenges and a new standard of quality for future executive members. We now have an expectation from the university, students, and faculty to continue to excel in our work in creating student involvement and leadership opportunities. We hope we will be able to continue to improve and innovate while keeping our positions as role models for students and other course unions.

In the future, we hope to increase our efficiency as an organization. To do this, we will continue carrying out our day-to-day duties with responsibility, care and transparency. Hopefully, the increased attention to our student union’s position will only motivate us to achieve our goal of creating a model space for learning and socializing in the university. We must remain consistent, inclusive, sustainable, and take into account all evaluations on our group. We are working on developing a long-term strategy for our union’s development, and working consistently towards achieving these goals. This helps build momentum and maintain focus over time, ensuring that the community is always moving forward. We are already developing new ways to involve more members in decision-making, or introducing new events or initiatives that are specifically designed to be more inclusive. We are currently working on a smooth transition to a new generation of execs, for them to be better informed and prepared for the challenges to come. We hope that this will allow us to continue with the consistent growth as we have seen in the last few years.

7. Are there any other milestones that PhySU hopes to achieve beyond this?

Another milestone that we hope to achieve beyond this, is being able to be visible to more than just pure physics students. As well, being an organization that is based on growth and development of the students we represent, their interests and circumstances are important to us. We hope to make our involvement within the Department stronger, so the students’ voices can be even more prominent than they already are. Frequent meetings with the administrators at the university can give the Department a good idea of what they should implement into our curriculums and mark breakdowns. Also, giving the students more access to opportunities and increasing the numbers of students with some kind of research under their belts, would be helpful in preparation for graduate school and beyond. We also hope to continue with our financial milestones and develop a financial plan in order to make our events next year accessible to a larger number of students. Overall, we hope to carry on the tradition of PhySU being a motivated collective, focused on improving the future for generations to come.