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UTSA physics Ph.D. program is Star finalist

By Amanda Beck
Communications Specialist, College of Sciences

(Dec. 2, 2008)--The UTSA physics Ph.D. program is a finalist for the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board's 2008 Star Award, which recognizes exemplary contributions toward closing the higher education gaps that challenge the state. The prize will be announced today at an Austin ceremony during the annual Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board Leadership Conference and second annual State of Higher Education Luncheon.

The Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board (THECB) was created by the Texas Legislature to organize the efforts of institutions of higher education in Texas to ensure excellence in education and student performance. The Star Awards were established in 2001 by the board to honor successful programs throughout the state that meet one or more goals of the "Closing the Gaps by 2015" initiative. Each year, 12 awards are presented to eligible programs in two categories: (1) educational institutions and (2) organizations, groups or individuals.

THECB adopted the "Closing the Gaps by 2015" plan in 2000 as a way to coordinate and improve the efforts of Texas' educational programs. The plan has four goals for closing the gaps based on student participation, student success, excellence and research.

The UTSA physics Ph.D. program has gained momentum and notoriety over its four years of operation and is the only program of its kind in South Texas. Both the program and the Department of Physics and Astronomy foster student success through hands-on learning in laboratories where faculty members conduct world-class research. The program has a number of collaborative efforts with independent institutions including a joint astronomy program with researchers at the Southwest Research Institute. Physics Ph.D. graduates pursue careers in academia as researchers or in the community as physics teachers.

Lorenzo Brancaleon, assistant professor of physics and head of the physics Ph.D. program, has watched the program flourish and believes its growth will drive the success of the entire department. Both Brancaleon and Miguel Yacaman, chair of the Department of Physics and Astronomy, will attend the conference and award ceremony in Austin. Being a 2008 Star Award finalist is a step toward state and national recognition for both UTSA's Department of Physics and Astronomy and the College of Sciences.

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