Nineteen Jalen Rose Leadership Academy (JRLA) scholars recently embarked on an educational adventure when they visited the University of Michigan Department of Physics on the Ann Arbor campus. Accompanied by their physics teacher, Mr. Calvin Nellum, they explored central campus with a walking tour that included a visit to the Trotter Multicultural Center and a tour of the physics teaching labs. After lunch, they headed to North Campus for a comprehensive Ford Robotics Lab tour.

Michigan Physics’ association with Mr. Nellum is not new. It began when he was an undergraduate student at Norfolk State University; in summer 2013, he participated in the department's Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) program working with Professor Roy Clarke’s group. 

The partnership between Jalen Rose Academy and Michigan Physics began as a response to the Strike for Black Lives initiative in summer 2020. Physics Professors Roy Clarke and Gus Evrard contacted Mr. Nellum and started by arranging some remote presentations for his summer class, followed by remote tutoring in a fall term physics class from Society of Physics Student members, organized by Kevin Zvonarek.

The association then flourished. Michigan Physics hosted 12 JRLA students from Mr. Nellum’s Robotics class in Fall 2021. Highlights of this campus visit included Professor Leo Pando Zayas’ black holes and quantum physics talk and a U-M planetarium show. Also, JRLA students viewed a fascinating series of demonstrations on the magnetic levitation of high-temperature superconductors given by Michigan Physics Adjunct Lecturer Ramon Torres-Isea of the Advanced Physics Laboratory.

Mr. Nellum says, “During the era of "social justice" it is really hard to come by people who are genuine and really care about giving back to young black youth. I must say Gus and Roy are committed to equity and giving back using science, technology, engineering, and math."

In Winter 2021, Michigan Physics further helped the class by providing access funding to an online, interactive textbook, Big Ideas in Cosmology (that text is now gratis).

During the pandemic lockdown, it became difficult for students to engage with any hands-on lab work. To help fill this gap, Michigan physicists devised a kit of simple items, such as polarizers and diffraction gratings, that could be used to explore the wave nature of light in our everyday surroundings. Mr. Nellum distributed 100 kits, together with worksheets and a primer on the history of optics and light, so that the students could experiment for themselves remotely.

Most recently, Dr. Anslyn John and Professor Evrard visited Mr. Nellum’s Robotics class at JRLA and facilitated a class that presented non-Euclidean geometry. Dr. Anslyn John from Stellenbosch University, South Africa is visiting Michigan Physics this semester hosted by the University of Michigan African Presidential Scholars (UMAPS) program. Dr. John and Professor Evrard developed a theme for the class, “Strange Math in Familiar Places”. A highlight includes students drawing triangles on balloons to illustrate a physics principle—that the sum of the angles didn’t add up to 180 degrees as it does in flat space.

The professors of Michigan Physics will continue to provide physics experiences for the JRLA students in the near future by bringing them back to watch a Saturday Morning Physics talk among other educational endeavors.

More Information:
Roy Clarke
Gus Evrard
Dr. Anslyn John
Ramon Torres-Isea
Leo Pando Zayas