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THE WALL: Alumnus Dr. Catherine Crouch carries love of physics forward

As a professor at Swarthmore College, she learns from her students and champions diversity in STEM.
Illustration+%7C+Photo+provided+by+Dr.+Catherine+Crouch
Illustration | Photo provided by Dr. Catherine Crouch

Dr. Catherine Crouch graduated from Strath Haven High School in 1986 and has since participated in almost forty physics research paper publications. 

Her parents and teachers heavily influenced Crouch’s love of physics. Her father is a retired cardiologist, and her mother was a systems engineer for IBM in the 1960s, programming on punch cards.

“So both of my parents raised me with the love of the [field]—with my father more the science side of things, my mother more the quantitative side of things,” Crouch said. “So I was excited about science and math from an early age.” 

At Strath Haven and beyond, Crouch found inspiration. She had Mr. Bill Sweeney for two years of regular and AP physics, then attended the Pennsylvania Governor’s School for the Sciences in the summer of 1985.

She attended Williams College and graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Physics, and went on to pursue a PhD at Harvard University. 

Her curiosity in physics led her to become a professor at Swarthmore College starting in 2017, where she is now the head of the physics department.

“There’s nothing different about the carbon atom that’s in your cell from the carbon atom that’s in the fancy material that makes a tennis racket or ultra lightweight glider. So I think that kind of stuff is just fascinating and beautiful,” Crouch said.

According to Swarthmore College’s material sciences website, Crouch taught Physics 5: Spacetime and Quanta in the fall of 2023 and Physics 81-82: Advanced Laboratory in the fall of 2023 and spring of 2024.

Crouch both teaches and learns from her students every day.

“One of the things that happens when you shift from high school to college is you have to become a much more independent learner,” she said.“You have to take responsibility, not only for getting your work done, but really even understanding how to do your work, understanding what the study processes, what the things are, that you do to make sure you’ve really learned it well.”

As a professor, Crouch is constantly around students who are eager to learn. She finds it interesting that her students are motivated in different ways.

“What grabs one student about studying physics or astronomy will be different from what grabs another student,” Crouch said. “I just feel like it’s a great constant reminder that every student is an individual…”

In 2021, Crouch was elected as an American Physical Society Fellow. According to a Swarthmore College article, no more than one half of one percent of the society is recognized by this fellowship each year. 

“Crouch was recognized specifically for ‘her leadership in physics education research, focused on promoting the thoughtful use of interactive engagement for all students, for making physics relevant to life science majors, and supporting others through archiving of key resources, mentoring, and commitment to equity and inclusion in STEM,’” the article stated.

One of the main ways Crouch showed commitment to inclusion in STEM was the Natural Sciences & Engineering Inclusive Excellence Initiative. She started the program with Professor Emerita of Biology Kathy Siwicki and Professor of Biology Liz Vallen, with whom she led the program until she became the physics department chair. 

“We inferred that many faculty wanted to find ways to create better, more supportive environments for students coming into our classes, especially those who came from with less preparation, or who were underrepresented in the particular science or engineering field they were pursuing,” Crouch said. 

While Crouch was pursuing her PhD, she found that the research aspect of the work was more challenging than anything she had previously encountered. 

“I found that initially really discouraging, and I really questioned, was I good enough to do this?” Crouch said. “Was this the right thing for me to do? I think it is maybe a little more common for women, and people from underrepresented groups to struggle with this, but I think it’s across the board.” 

“I think that what made me really reflect on it is that for anyone who’s doing something that’s really worth doing, and it’s challenging, at some point, you’ll run into a time when it’s really difficult.”

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About the Contributor
Kaitlyn Ho '26
Kaitlyn Ho '26, Managing Editor of Web
Kaitlyn Ho is the current managing editor of web and the health and sciences editor of The Panther Press. Her first article was on the German Exchange Students. There was no turning back after that. She loves to learn about communicating complex science in simple ways, reading, dancing, artificial intelligence, and playing (badly) the piano and cello. Her future self can confirm that she will laugh at and enjoy every single thing her past self wrote.
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