The Physics and Astronomy Department at the Embry-Riddle Campus in Prescott, Ariz. is a very close department with about 100 students together across freshman, sophomore, junior and senior statuses and eleven staff members. This tight network is common nationwide and even more common among the minorities of the STEM field: women and LGBTQ+ communities. The national organization American Physical Society (APS) unites and creates a safe place for women and the LGBTQ+ community with a conference they put on called Conferences for Undergraduate Women in Physics (CUWiP). One of Embry-Riddle’s own Space Physics majors, Ashley Elliott, was able to attend CUWiP 2020 hosted by Texas A&M University in College Station, Texas.
Elliott left for the conference on Jan. 16 2020, only to experience several layovers for multiple hours each before finally catching her breath in her hotel room before the first events would begin. First, she attended the welcome dinner where speakers from Texas A&M, APS, and Brazos Valley African American Museum talked about how events like these are taking steps forward in the right direction to improve equal treatment among everyone in the STEM field.
After the “true Tex-Mex dinner,” Elliott participated in pub-style physics trivia (with an emphasis on important women in physics) surrounded by women from Embry-Riddle Prescott and Arizona State University (ASU). They named their team “Space Cacti” because they all were from dry and arid climates. Elliott’s team tied with another group in fifth place but the loss did not mean anything when she realized the bonds formed over one passion: physics, especially with the developments made by women like her.
The next day, Elliott put her business attire on and readied to tackle the busiest day of the conference. Her day started with a talk about the Supporting Teachers to Encourage the Pursuit of Undergraduate Physics for Women (STEP UP) movement given by the Careers Program Manager of APS, Midhat Farooq. After that talk, she proceeded to the parallel sessions, which had a focus of developing professional skills. The panel was called “Careers in Physics” and featured a professor from an Australian university, a senior scientist at the Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI), a visiting scholar to Texas A&M University, an Operational Physicist at Johnson Space Center, and a veteran who had done work for Cyber Security and Defense, who all talked about their experiences as women and how they got there.
CUWiP is hosted all across the United States on the same weekend and they bring in a single keynote speaker for the whole nation. Dr. Andrea Liu, a Hepburn Professor of Physics at the University of Pennsylvania, was on a live stream video call to all 13 universities who were hosting their regional conferences. For Elliott, being in the audience of the call surrounded by people and united with hundreds more over the common interest in physics warmed her heart.
Elliott also got to present the research she had participated in at the Los Alamos National Laboratory where her, a group of other fellow students, and their professor worked on proving sterile neutrinos exist. She entered the poster competition and scored highly for her presentation skills and display.
At the end of the conference, Elliott had bonded with people in more ways than expected and was reassured of her potential in the field of physics, despite the barriers that continue to face women in the field.