WVWC’s NASA connection attracts students

The physics and engineering labs at West Virginia Wesleyan College are booming these days. There are 97 students majoring in either physics or the dual-degree engineering program. Last year, there were 82.

Dr. G. Albert Popson Jr., department chair and professor of physics and engineering, believes strong program incentives are attracting more students to the program.

“Our NASA affiliation attracts quite a few students to our program,” he said. “Other students are attracted by the Dual-Degree Engineering Program articulation agreements we have with WVU, UVA, and Virginia Tech.”

Wesleyan’s affiliation with NASA benefits both the faculty and students.

This year, 11 physics students benefited from NASA Fellowships, which provided funding for research with Wesleyan faculty. Last summer, six physics students benefited from NASA funding for research. The faculty benefit from NASA funding for research, new educational initiatives, and community outreach.

Faculty NASA research has included collaborations with nearby universities and local industries, summer projects at NASA facilities, and enhancements to projects at Wesleyan.

“We had 10 students that we paid to work on research projects at the college last summer, as well as at NASA-Langely, NASA-Glenn, and Penn State,” Popson said. “A group of students is involved in a special NASA space systems course, and they plan to launch their apparatus into Earth orbit in about six months.”

The Dual-Degree Engineering program is designed for students who want to prepare for careers in engineering by starting their studies at a small college rather than a large university. After three years at Wesleyan, the student transfers to one of the articulation universities.

After about two years at the university, the student earns both a physics degree from Wesleyan and the university’s engineering degree. Employers value the special skills a student learns at a liberal arts college.

Popson said he has also found that another big draw for students is the fact they can attend Wesleyan and receive a top-notch physics or engineering degree while still having the opportunity to feed their co-curricular hunger.

“Quite a few of our students participate in sports, band, chorale, theater, and student government,” he said. “Many students are interested in starting their study of engineering at a small school, where they have smaller classes and get to know their teachers.”

More information on the physics or engineering majors at West Virginia Wesleyan College is available from Popson at popson@wvwc.edu or 304-473-8070.