Inside Discovery Hall: UNK department turns students’ curiosities into careers


Astronomy is the physical science that studies things outside the Earth’s atmosphere. Astronomers use observations of planets, stars, nebulae and galaxies to collect data and theories from physics to make sense of the whole universe. They rely entirely on observation, unlike physicists and chemists who build laboratories and conduct experiments.

In the last few years, astronomers have discovered dark energy, mapped the shape of the universe, sent rovers to Mars, discovered planets around other stars and imaged black holes. This work furthers our understanding of the universe and our place in it.

The universe is so vast, and its mysteries so deep, that future astronomers will be challenged to ask new and greater questions. UNK offers degrees in astronomy and astrophysics to prepare students for the many tasks in this field.

Career Opportunities
  • Data science
  • Software development
  • Finance and optics
  • Telescope design
  • Planetarium director
  • Meteorologist
  • Research scientist
  • Climatologist
  • Aeronautical engineer
Job placement rate: 100%
Starting salary: $60,000+
Number of faculty: 3
Student enrollment in physics/astronomy: 8

“UNK’s astronomy and astrophysics programs offer students an opportunity to explore and expand their understanding of the universe. Our faculty are interested in helping students achieve academic and professional success through both education and research. We regularly work with students to conduct research and develop a wide skill set applicable to many fields, both in and outside of science. Some of our research topics include the identification of planets around other stars, the formation and evolution of stars and galaxies, gravitational waves and the study of black holes.”
Joel Berrier, assistant professor, UNK Department of Physics, Astronomy and Engineering


With a low student-to-faculty ratio and strong connections to the local engineering industry, UNK’s engineering foundations program is the perfect place for students to begin their engineering degree.

Whether they’re interested in civil, computer, electrical, mechanical or agricultural engineering, UNK provides the scholarships and support to help students succeed.

In a unique collaboration, UNK and UNL worked together to design a thriving program in which students spend their first two years attending engineering classes at UNK before finishing the final two years at UNL. At UNK, students gain a strong background for engineering while taking the recommended general courses in physics, chemistry and math before transferring to UNL or any other ABET-accredited engineering school.

UNK also offers a 3+2 dual-degree program that allows students who spend three years at UNK and two years in the College of Engineering at UNL to earn a bachelor’s degree in physics from UNK and a bachelor’s degree in engineering from UNL.

If you’re interested in math and physics and enjoy the challenge of real-world problem-solving, the engineering foundations program at UNK is the right place for you.

Career Opportunities

Agricultural engineers use science and math to meet challenges in agriculture – helping producers grow better and more food, conserving soil and water and designing tools and equipment.

Civil engineers design, build, supervise, operate and maintain construction projects and systems in the public and private sector, including roads, buildings, airports, tunnels, dams, bridges and systems for water supply and sewage treatment.

Electrical engineers develop and oversee electrical systems and equipment. They work with everything from power grids to computers and telephones to cars.

Mechanical engineers develop, build, maintain and improve tools, machines and systems.

Computer engineering integrates electronic engineering with computer sciences. Computer engineers design and develop computer systems and other technological devices.

Starting salary: $55,000 to $70,000
Number of faculty: 2
Student enrollment: 10

“I truly enjoyed how the physics department at UNK was almost like a small family. Everyone very much knew each other and were supportive of one another. The professors were all great and very personable. It was very easy to discuss topics with them and to work on getting a better understanding of what we happened to be studying. It was great to expand my knowledge not only in engineering, but also other areas of physics, as well. Without the engineering foundations program, I likely would not be where I am today.”
Adam Schlotthauer, electrical engineer, Commonwealth Electric Company of the Midwest 


Physics is crucial to understanding the world around us. It is the most basic and fundamental science, studying the interactions of energy and matter, force and motion, and space and time.

Physics leads to great discoveries such as gravitational waves quantum behavior, and to the creation of technologies, like computers and lasers, that change our lives.

UNK’s physics program is the perfect fit for students who share this curiosity about the world.

Studying physics equips students with problem-solving and analytical skills, which are very desirable in the job market, while preparing them to work in a variety of interesting places, including industrial settings, government labs, K-12 schools and college campuses. Physicists are an excellent match for high-demand STEM jobs.

Class sizes are small at UNK, allowing students to get to know their instructors, ask for help and receive advice in a comfortable atmosphere. Undergraduates also engage in active research with a faculty mentor and often travel to various conferences to present their research to peers.

Career Opportunities

Most UNK physics students will attend graduate school and earn a doctoral degree. Nationally, 47% of all undergraduate students will go to graduate school, with about 48% securing employment directly after receiving their bachelor’s degree, according to the American Institute of Physics. The private-sector STEM field has a median starting salary of $60,000 for graduates with a bachelor’s degree, while the private-sector non-STEM field has a median starting salary of $35,000. The median starting salary is approximately $110,000 in the private-sector STEM field for employees with a doctorate.

  • Accelerator operator
  • Applications engineer
  • Data analyst
  • Design engineer
  • Lab technician
  • Laser engineer
  • Optical engineer
  • Software developer
  • Systems analyst
  • Technical specialist
  • Web developer
Graduate school acceptance rate: 90%
Starting salary: $60,000
Number of faculty: 3
Student enrollment in physics/astronomy: 8

“I have always been interested in physics. My decision to major in physics in college was easy and I definitely made the right choice. It is fascinating to learn about how the world works and how we can describe it using physics. There is still so much to be discovered and I have always been intrigued by this unknown. UNK’s program and its faculty are amazing. What stands out most is that every faculty member cares about the students and wants them to succeed. Everyone is willing to help and answer questions, even if you are not in their class.”
Lena Janssen, UNK senior, Westoverledingen, Germany