The Art of Collaboration: Why So Many Physics Students Are Double Majors

The Art of Collaboration: Why So Many Physics Students Are Double Majors

Light is a beautiful thing, and for St. Thomas senior Lexi Serreyn, she’s making it her future.

A physics and electrical engineering double major, Serreyn is poised to graduate this spring, ready to turn her love and knowledge of light into something much more.

“With my research in the Physics Department I got access to so many cool optical technologies,” Serreyn said. “I feel like I’m entering the industry with a huge amount of lab experience.”

Optics boils down to the behavior of light, and Serreyn has been a fan since high school, eyeing a possible career in optics technologies. Coming to St. Thomas as an electrical engineering major, she quickly found a second home in the Physics Department.

“Once I got to know the physics faculty, I wanted to keep taking classes with them and I just felt like I kept gaining good technical skills from all the classes,” Serreyn said. “I decided to keep going and go for the major.”

Embracing interdisciplinary education

That collaborative spirit seems to be catching within the St. Thomas Physics Department. The majority of this year’s graduates have chosen to pair their physics major with another, leading to a healthy group of double majors.

“You're not just stuck on a traditional path,” Adam Green, associate professor of physics, said. “We can investigate these fuzzy boundaries between traditional disciplines. It’s not just physics, not just biology, not just engineering – these combinations lead to a lot of interesting and fruitful work.”

It was in professor Green’s optical physics course where Serreyn first got bit by the physics bug, and she never looked back.

“I had my heart set on taking that class,” Serreyn said. “The physics faculty members, they are so friendly and collaborative that I think they draw people to want to take more of their classes.”

Serreyn worked with Green on multiple research projects throughout her college career, focusing on biomedical applications for optical technologies. And in doing so, Serreyn proved she’s ready to face new challenges with a unique skill set.

“Lexi is especially good at bringing people together of various backgrounds to solve hard problems,” Green said. “Her knowledge of electrical engineering, computer programming and math gives her a holistic view of problems and allows her to solve them with a variety of different approaches.”

The Art of Collaboration: Why So Many Physics Students Are Double Majors

No double major is off limits

Typically, the St. Thomas Physics Department sees about 60% of its students pursue a double major. While electrical engineering and mathematics are the most common double majors, this year no combination seems to be off limits. The 2022 graduating class showcases a wide variety of interests, everything from biology to business.

Senior Gabriel Bauer will walk across the graduation stage with a double major in physics and international economics. Along with a minor in French, he somehow also found the time to serve as the St. Thomas Orchestra’s principal violinist.

“It’s been only by the grace of God for sure that I’ve gotten everything done in the amount of time that I had to,” Bauer said. “I’ve been very fortunate in having just the right number of slots in my schedule.”

Originally drawn to St. Thomas for its physics program, Bauer found he really enjoyed the challenge of adding another major to his plate. His natural talent playing the violin helped bring everything together.

“Mental discipline is a skill that I’ve had to develop in music,” Bauer said. “That’s also been very helpful for my physics classes, being able to focus on a problem and not losing my focus.”

Not one, not two, but three majors

Pursuing a second major is a feat all by itself, but for senior Ben Frey, it wasn’t enough to stop at two. Frey began his career at St. Thomas as an entrepreneurship major. Just four short years later, he’s now a triple major, with physics and computer science joining the fray.

“I got into a couple of physics classes and they just stuck with me,” Frey said. “I didn’t intend to do a triple major or anything, it just kind of worked out that way.”

Frey hopes to one day open his own business, and he’s excited about the knowledge and relationships that three majors have already afforded him early on in his career.

“Physics has given me an ability to interface with other engineering disciplines,” Frey said. “I can now feel comfortable talking with mechanical engineers, computer engineers, all kinds of engineers.”

The triple major has put that familiarity to use, completing a variety of research projects that highlight his different interests, working on everything from autonomous vehicles to ultrasound technology for COVID-19 patients.

Frey credits his success to flexible scheduling and the backing of St. Thomas professors.

“If someone is really passionate about a triple major, go for it,” Frey said. “Just talk to faculty here at St. Thomas, because they’re so helpful and they’re always willing to give you some advice.”

Entering the next chapter of their lives, these physics double (and triple) majors are now off to graduate school and their first jobs. Professor Green is excited to see where these collaborative, inquisitive minds end up.

“We, of course, want to teach them practical skills that give them jobs and get them into grad schools, but we want them to go far beyond the textbook,” Green said. “We want to emphasize the creative exploration and the process of becoming a scientist or an engineer.”