Department of Physics Gains Experienced Leader, Scientist As New Chair

(Photo by: Lauren Schoepfer)

A longtime fixture in the UCF Department of Physics and world-recognized planetary sciences expert was recently appointed chair of the department. In an interview with the College of Sciences, Pegasus Professor Josh Colwell, Ph.D. shares his journey to this point and his vision for the future.

 College of Sciences: What sparked your interest in space?

 Josh Colwell: My mother says it began when she went to see the launch of Gemini 1 when she was eight months pregnant with me. As far as I remember, I was always excited about astronomy and space exploration.

I grew up watching Cosmos on PBS which captures the big picture of exploration and astronomy. At the time, I didn’t imagine that I would be researching planetary sciences but Cosmos definitely served as an inspirational stepping stone.

COS: What makes you excited about your work?

 JC: In terms of research, it’s very exciting figuring out how something works. It’s exciting seeing a result and understanding what’s going on and how that applies to the universe as a whole.

As an educator, seeing the proverbial lightbulb over a student’s head when they grasp something is inspiring because you are able to facilitate that understanding. As an administrator, it’s exciting to facilitate the success of my colleagues and provide them the resources they need to succeed.

COS: What are some initiatives and growth opportunities you are hoping to launch?

 JC:  We’re very committed to trying to grow the diversity of the student population. We are looking to broaden our recruiting and outreach efforts to make people from all different walks of life and backgrounds see themselves in a career of physics.

Our graduate program is an area that I’m also looking to grow. I think we can support a larger number of graduate students as well as expand the number of programs within the department of physics.

For our undergraduates, we’ll be looking at ways to improve retention and improve their success. There are initiatives that have been underway for years that we are working to expand and grow such as learning assistants in our classes to help our students be more successful and overall improve our graduation rate for our majors.

COS: What makes the physics department stand out from other programs?

 JC: I think the physics department at UCF has excellence at all levels.  If we take a look at our undergraduates, our society of physics students have won a number of awards. Some of our majors have won a number of national prestigious awards for their research and scholarship.

We have always been active in getting our undergraduates involved in research. I think it’s a great opportunity for the students, it helps them grow as future scientists. We provide a well-rounded educational opportunity for both outside and inside the classroom.



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