January 2019: Donna Stokes

University of Houston, Houston, Texas

Donna Stokes

  • Member since 2015
  • Associate Professor of Physics
  • Houston, Texas

About Donna

As a high school senior, I was certain that I would attend college, but was uncertain about what would be my major. I remember one day the high schools counselor called us in, myself and two other African American students, and informed us that the local Historically Black College and University, Southern University, wanted to offer 3 scholarships in Physics to student from my high school. The counselor along with the science teachers had chosen us based on performance in our science and math classes. I always loved math and science so I was excited to hear about the scholarship, but a little frightened about the Physics part. My thoughts for a major were either Engineering or accounting. After talking with my parents, my mom told me to accept the scholarship for the first year since I would most likely be taking several core courses along with math and physics. She said, if you don’t like it, then you can refuse the scholarship for the next year. I listened to her advice and many years later, here I am as an associate professor of Physics at the University of Houston.

I always loved teaching, where I remember as a little girl I would pretend to teach "invisible" students. LOL! I never envisioned teaching as a career; although my mother, aunts and uncles were all teachers. I thought I would work in industry, following in my father’s footsteps, and later teach at the college level before retiring. It was during my post-doc that I decided to pursue an academic position which would allow me to do research and teach. My research in condensed matter physics focused on the growth, optical and structural characterization of semiconductors; however, attending many scientific conferences, I would see very few faces that looked like mine, except at the National Conference for Black Physics Students, which was hosted by the National Society of Black Physicists (NSBP). I have attended NSBP conferences since 1987 and realized there are so many students like myself who love physics who may not have been afforded the opportunity to pursue their dreams. I realized that through my teaching, I could impact those students by determining why/how they learned physics and the factors that influence their success and persistence toward a physics degrees. Through this research, I also became involved with the STEM teacher preparation program, teachHOUSTON, at UH and realized I could make an even greater impact on students by working to prepare qualified physics teachers. With the shortage of physics teachers, especially in underserved schools, it is imperative that faculty like myself take a vested interest in not only teaching and mentoring students from underrepresented groups in my classroom, but also to help better prepare them at the K-12 level by educating pre-service teachers.

Through AAPT, many doors to Physics education research and physics teaching have been opened. My membership has allowed me to meet and establish collaborations with colleagues from across the nation on how to improve physics teaching at various levels. I learned about many teaching tools and techniques at the AAPT conferences, in particular the LA program which we have implemented a similar model in our undergraduate program. I have also worked with the AAPT leadership on conference planning which exposed me to the many facets of the organization for which I had not been utilizing like the numerous workshops that are offered. I look forward to upcoming AAPT meetings and events which will allow me to learn/share information on best practices in the classroom so that I can have a greater impact on the students I encounter in my classes, in the teacher preparation program and through my STEM and physics education based research.