Willow Canyon Conference

Willow Canyon Conference Graduate and Undergraduate Research

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Eric Bettertin

In 1996, Professor William (Bill) Bickel from the University of Arizona (UA) Physics Department contacted two of his former students, Dr. Anthony (Tony) Pitucco, Department Chair Physics Department Chair and Faculty at Pima Community College (PCC) in Tucson Arizona, and John Pattison, Adjunct Faculty at the University of Arizona to be co-participants in the creation of a yearly outreach conference for both graduate and undergraduate students in physics and related areas.  The purpose and goal of the conference was to allow a diverse population of students, particularly under-represented minorities and women the opportunity to present the results of research they had completed in an informal environment among their peers with the intent to provide instructive and constructive feedback for future professional work.

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Kyle Rine

This was a completely voluntary program in which students were invited to participate in a two-day conference named the Willow Canyon Conference.   Students, from all backgrounds, particularly women and minorities were invited from both the UA and PCC who had completed advanced laboratory coursework; internships from individual Physics Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU); i.e., NSF sponsored Physics, Astronomy, Mathematics, and related area UA Physics REU’s; research from independent studies; and internship research from other private and professional organizations.  The intent was to expose and attract as many students as possible to the excitement of scientific research particularly in  under-represented populations
To this end Dr. Bickel generously suggested the use of his mountain cabin in Willow Canyon on Mt. Lemmon in the Catalina Mountain Range in Tucson Arizona.   At an elevation nearing 8000 feet, this became the home of the conference for the next eighteen years where, other than the 1996 pilot year, two conferences per year have been held, one during the fall semester and one during the spring semester.  The weekend of October 25, 2014 marks the 35th Willow Canyon Conference where, over these many years as many as 18 students per conference have presented their research.
To maintain the informal structure of the conference and to avoid the usual issues of institutional grant funding it was decided that all expenses including transportation, food and lodging would be shared between the three conference founders.  In addition, it would be expense free to all invited students thus making this outreach experience completely student oriented.

The success of the conference has been overwhelming positive and the number of student conference alumni has exceeded 400 with several students successfully pursuing advanced degrees in STEM related areas.   Several have actively pursued employment in the public and private sectors as teachers, researchers, professors, and engineers, in the areas of physics, mathematics, engineering, astronomy, biophysics, bioengineering, and the geosciences. Many have achieved national recognition as they continued into their individual areas of interest.
The Willow Creek Conference is only one way in which outreach efforts become pillars in the ever growing need to attract young students from all diverse backgrounds; and, most importantly to retain them in pursuing their goals as future scientists.

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