Together We Will Award to Sam Shupe

Sam Shupe, physics lab coordinator
Sam Shupe, physics lab coordinator

Sam Shupe is a University of Washington Bothell alumnus and current staff member. In both capacities, he has been an incredible asset — applying innovative approaches to enhance the University experience for students and faculty alike.

As an undergraduate, he worked for the Writing & Communication Center, Career Services and Office of Student Life. He also founded the Husky Herald student newspaper and served as editor-in-chief for its first three years of publication.

Now the physics lab coordinator, Shupe plays a vital role on campus making sure the labs run smoothly. He orders supplies, consults with faculty and oversees safety protocols. When COVID-19 hit and the University shifted to remote learning, Shupe did not miss a beat. He created “remote labs” that contained materials to conduct various experiments and distributed them to nearly 1,000 students over the course of 18 months.

“From the perspective of an instructor who taught introductory and advanced physics labs, Sam’s resourcefulness and cooperative attitude ensured that the student hands-on learning experience was not compromised through the restrictions brought on by the pandemic,” said Dr. Subramanian Ramachandran, a part-time lecturer in the School of STEM who nominated Shupe for the award. “He has been an incredible asset to our division.”

To recognize Shupe’s commitment to student learning, he has been selected as one of 20 staff members from across the University of Washington for the Together We Will Award.

Commitment to community

The award recognizes essential UW staff — those who made the pivot to remote operations possible, people who ensured programs are inclusive and equitable, and staff who went above and beyond to support colleagues and the greater community.

“It is reassuring to know that my coworkers think highly of me,” Shupe said. “I tend to have quite a bit of anxiety, and I am pretty hard on myself, so it felt nice to have that validation.”

A former STEM student himself, Shupe knew firsthand just how valuable the interactive components of research are to scientific education. While there is plenty of work that can be done from home, parts of the scientific process can only be completed in a lab or at other locations where fieldwork or similar hands-on research occurs.

“When I came to UW Bothell I thought I wanted to go into business, but I took a chemistry class, started doing experiments, fell in love and never looked back,” Shupe said.

That formative experience motivated him to provide students with similar opportunities, despite how challenging it would prove during the pandemic.

Shupe consulted with dozens of faculty members, searched hundreds of websites and placed thousands of supply orders — in addition to creating and distributing thousands of remote lab kits. “I’m not going to lie, it was a lot of work,” he said. “But I had a lot of really strong, hard-working folks on the team, and we made it. We pulled through.”

Creative innovations

Dr. Ansel Neunzert, lecturer in the School of STEM, was one of the faculty members whose students benefited form Shupe’s efforts.

“The lab kits Sam created made a huge impact on student learning,” Neunzert said. “For cases when we couldn’t use lab equipment, students were stuck using simulations, and it was not the same thing. They couldn’t quantify what was happening in the experiment, and it just didn’t have the same level of engagement. Thanks to Sam, that was largely avoided during the pandemic.”

Instead, students received boxes that included sets of magnets, a compass, liquid measuring containers, light bulbs, cords and circuitry, among other helpful equipment. “Sam was very creative,” Neunzert said. “He found a kit that was supposed to be for a take-home motor that had a coil of wire. You could put a battery in it, and it would spin the coil — and it turned out to be one of the most versatile pieces in the remote lab equipment.”

Neunzert used that coil of wire to teach students how to measure magnetic fields with a compass and to figure out how to light a lightbulb. “Things didn’t always go as planned, sometimes a bulb would burn out or the resistance wasn’t correct for lighting it. Anytime I came to Sam for help on how to solve an issue, he was extremely responsive and adapted based on money and time constraints. He was incredibly accommodating.”

According to Ramachandran, “Sam was able to maintain the quality of learning that takes place within a lab despite students being at home. The other physics faculty and I are extremely grateful for what he made possible.”

Proud staff member

When Shupe isn’t busy working at UW Bothell, he is enjoying time with his fiancé and 6-month-old daughter.

Shupe with his 6-month-old daughter and fiancé
Shupe with his daughter, Ruby Mae and fiancé, Maresa Ann Edwards

“I am so blessed to be surrounded by such wonderful people, both in my professional and personal life,” he said. “I am honored to receive this award, and more than that, I am glad students didn’t have to miss out on the fun of physics.”

Shupe also made a point to thank his fellow co-workers and said that without them none of this would have been possible.

“As staff members, we often work in the shadows,” he said, “which is why receiving this award means so much. I want to represent my fellow staff members and remind them that the University of Washington Bothell is a world-class institution, and our work contributes to that.”

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