STEM Shoutout: Dr. Darcy Barron

Dr. Darcy Barron named a 2019 Women in STEM award winner

UNM Assistant Professor Dr. Darcy Barron of the Physics and Astronomy Department has been recognized as a 2019 Women in STEM award winner for her research proposal, “Improving Physics Retention Rates through Early Undergraduate Research Experiences at UNM.”


“This award is seed funding to develop a new program in the physics department to give more lower-level undergraduate students experience in independent research projects, with the goal of improving the retention rates within the program,” Barron said. 


Among the STEM fields, physics has historically lacked in diversity, with many demographic groups being vastly underrepresented in physics degree programs — which Barron plans to address. 


“The undergraduate physics degree is a really versatile degree that opens up a wide range of opportunities, yet many students don’t have access to these great opportunities just because of their background. This is an extremely complex problem with no easy solutions, but it is something that many people are working to change,” Barron said. 


With her work, Barron is hoping to address these low retention rates at the local level here at the University of New Mexico. Her project will be designed based on the unique resources and demographics of the UNM physics department, and will incorporate evidence-based methods from existing programs.


“This project will investigate a hybrid approach, giving a cohort of students early training in research skills, including experience on independent projects, to prepare them for successful placement in an academic research group. This pilot program will act as a demonstration for future proposals, including the NSF CAREER grant, and other funding opportunities within NSF’s Division of Astronomy and Astrophysics,” Barron said.


Through the program, Barron plans to give students context for their introductory physics course work in the form of independent projects. Applying their physics knowledge in such a way will help develop the student’s mathematical reasoning skills and physical intuition necessary for higher-level physics. Barron says these kinds of projects can also help students stay motivated and excited about physics. 


“We’ll be working with Anthony Salvagno of Explora’s X Studio, who received his PhD in biophysics from UNM, on ideas for demonstrations and exhibits that the students can build,” Barron said. 


“I am honored to have received this award and I am really excited about the collaborations it is enabling. As a scientist, I want to approach my teaching and education projects with the same techniques as I use in my physics research projects: studying the background literature, learning and applying evidence-based techniques, and eventually developing new methods and knowledge. This project is connecting me with experts who will help me in this process, and will help create a program that is tailored to our university’s unique resources and needs,” Barron said.


To learn more about Barron’s work, visit her research group website.