Late in 2020, the department created the Homer Neal Diversity Student Support Fund in acknowledgement of our department’s past and in support of our future. Our vision for this fund is to provide students from groups that have traditionally been underrepresented in Physics with fellowship support to reduce the cost of attending IU and/or facilitate the development of their Physics Identity by covering the expenses of attending conferences. A current faculty member has pledged to match the first $20K raised for this fund. In the first three weeks of the campaign to finance this fund, we have received $6K toward this first $20K needed to take full advantage of that pledged match. Emeritus faculty member Andy Bacher has also pledged to add in $3K once the department reaches $17K in independent contributions. In honor of Black history month, we urge all friends of physics to make whatever contribution you are able to consider at this time in order to close the gap to that now magic point at $17K. A link to facilitate donations to this fund is now available on our department website at: https://physics.indiana.edu/alumni-giving/index.html
We have named this fund to recognize one of this department’s most distinguished undergraduate alumni, Homer A. Neal (BS 1961). Prof. Neal was later also a dynamic faculty member at IU, who was instrumental in establishing a research effort in experimental particle physics in the department before rising to serve as IU’s Dean of Research and Graduate Development and Provost at Stony Brook. Later he moved to the University of Michigan where he was the Samuel Goudsmit Distinguished Professor of Physics, VP for Research, and interim President. Nationally, he went on to be the first African American president of the APS and served as a member of National Science Board for six years. He also served on the Physics and Astronomy board of the National Research Council as well as the boards of Ford Motor Company, the National Museum of African American History. His honors include being a Fellow of the APS, AAAS, and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the APS Bouchet Award, IU’s Distinguish Alumni Service Award, the Stony Brook Medal, and Honorary Doctorates from IU, Notre Dame, and Michigan State. We are proud that we have taken these steps to establish this fund in recognition of Prof. Neal’s importance to both our department and our profession.
The faculty of our department recognize the systemic persistent obstacles that women and many minority groups have experienced in the field of Physics for almost as long as the field has existed. We are committed to doing what we can to be part of the solution to this problem, and we have had some success in this regard recently. Among our early efforts was our participation as one of the first six departments in the country to join the “APS Bridge program” under the direction of Prof. Jon Urheim and the Department’s diversity committee. This program is directed at identifying determined students who might thrive in Physics, but for whom limited opportunities in their undergraduate preparation left a few gaps that present barriers within the context of the traditional admissions process for most Physics departments. We have successfully “bridged” a number of these students into our PhD program over the last several years through this program and we expect the first of these students to defend their theses within a year. With the continued support of the College and Graduate School, we are positioned to sustain this new tradition into the future. A group of some 20 faculty members, staff, and students are currently working with the APS IDEA program in launching a decades-long national effort to increase diversity in, and transform the culture of, Physics. The recent success of IU’s Chemistry department in landing a similar Bridge program in Chemistry presents IU Bloomington with a real opportunity to be recognized as a flagship campus for increasing diversity in the Sciences. This new Homer Neal fund will, we trust, be another important element in this larger effort.