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Physics in a Family Atmosphere
A family atmosphere in the physics department helped Renee Lathrop excel.

Renee Lathrop '00

From the moment a high school physics teacher first gave her the confidence to pursue a career in physics, Renee Lathrop knew she was entering a male-dominated field. And what intimidated her most wasn't the challenge of success, but rather that her minority status would lead to feelings of isolation.

That changed the moment she got to Susquehanna University.

"Isolation does not help you grow academically, professionally, or personally, and while I was at SU the physics department was like a big family," says Lathrop, 34. "When I was celebrating my birthday the first semester of my first year away from home, I remember the whole physics department going out for ice cream with me. Even before this, one of the things I noticed about those who stayed within the program is that they seemed to study together. Isolation was no longer a concern."

Lathrop had another significant revelation while studying at SU. At a certain point, it became clear to her that she didn't want to pursue a career in research but instead felt passionately drawn to education.

"Initially I was very focused on being a researcher, and while I was good at it I found that I really enjoyed and valued the time I spent as a teaching assistant at SU and graduate school," recalls Lathrop. "I loved helping students understand physics and showing them that physics can be fun."

As an assistant professor of physics at Dutchess Community College in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., that's precisely what Lathrop does every day, continually shattering the notion that physics is either too challenging or too boring for the average student. In order to accomplish this, Lathrop constantly utilizes the power of group study and community, which often encourages success in even the most reluctant of students.

"It is a source of pride and accomplishment to see these students talking about physics and differential equations with such confidence," says Lathrop, who was recently nominated for the SUNY Chancellors Excellence in Teaching award for the third time. "It never fails that a few of them will stop by my office on a Friday and wish me a good weekend, very much how Dr. Richard Kozlowski was with us at SU. I hope I am creating a family-type atmosphere here like he did."

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