A Celebration of Service

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Special Feature

Dr. L. Worth Seagondollar

A Celebration of Service

Sigma Pi Sigma honored Seagondollar for his support of physics education


Jean P. Krisch, Professor of Physics at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, MI, Former Sigma Pi Sigma President

This story originally appeared in the Spring 1998 issue of Radiations.

 George Miner, Steve Feller, and Thomas Olsen. Photo by Tracy Nolis-Schwab.One of the great pleasures in serving as an officer of Sigma Pi Sigma (ΣΠΣ) is the opportunity to represent our society in honoring outstanding members. A highlight of the 1996 ΣΠΣ Diamond Jubilee meeting was a celebratory session recognizing some of our members who have rendered exceptional service to ΣΠΣ. During the year before the Jubilee meeting, the Society of Physics Students (SPS) Executive Committee and National Council discussed a new award that would honor an extraordinary level of commitment and service to SPS and ΣΠΣ. In a secret mail ballot, the SPS Council unanimously voted to create this award and to name it in honor of Dr. Worth Seagondollar. They also unanimously voted that he should be the award’s first recipient.

Worth Seagondollar has been associated with SPS/ΣΠΣ since he became a SPS chapter advisor in 1950 at the University of Kansas. He has held all of the offices in SPS and was the 13th ΣΠΣ president, serving from 1962 through 1967. This period was one of the most important in ΣΠΣ’s history. In 1950 the American Institute of Physics (AIP) established Student Sections. These sections provided local physics clubs with an affiliation to a larger professional society. In 1951, ΣΠΣ became an affiliate of AIP. During the 1950s the Student Sections and ΣΠΣ coexisted, each adding chapters and growing in size. In the 1960s, a merger between the two groups was suggested and Worth Seagondollar, as a member of the National Council, helped develop a plan that would allow the Student Sections and ΣΠΣ to maintain their respective identities. It was proposed that the Student Sections would become the Society of Physics Students and ΣΠΣ would be an honor society within SPS. Worth Seagondollar was a coauthor of the constitution for the new SPS.

During the planning, one of the major concerns was that ΣΠΣ would lose its membership in the strict and prestigious Association of College Honor Societies (ACHS), since there were no other Member Societies that were subgroups of a larger organization. In the Diamond Jubilee Proceedings, Worth describes the ACHS meeting where he and Marsh White presented the merger plan to the Executive Board. After the presentation, there was silence. Then Robert Nagel, representing the engineering society ΤΒΠ, spoke strongly in favor of the new SPS/ΣΠΣ being allowed to remain a member of ACHS. As ΣΠΣ president it was now Worth Seagondollar’s job to present the merger plan to the society. He called a special ΣΠΣ convocation in December 1967 at Purdue University. Two hundred delegates, representing 90 ΣΠΣ chapters, gathered to discuss the proposed merger. Initially the membership was very opposed to the plan, but Worth Seagondollar, presiding over the meeting, was able to convince the delegates of the merits of the merger, and it was approved by one vote more than was needed.

Over the years, Worth Seagondollar has continued his work for ΣΠΣ. In addition to being a ΣΠΣ advisor for 40 years, both at the University of Kansas and at North Carolina State University, he served on the SPS Council and was a member of the Diamond Jubilee Planning Committee. During this time he maintained an active research program and served as chair of the physics department at North Carolina State University. Naming the new service award after Worth Seagondollar and making him its first recipient were very appropriate.

At the beginning of the celebratory session, the creation of the award was announced and Dr. Seagondollar was asked to come to the front of the room. He had been asked to say a few words during the session, but he knew nothing about the award or its naming. When he was standing at the front, his service to Sigma Pi Sigma was described and the naming of the award in his honor announced. Dr. Seagondollar was very surprised and pleased. When it was announced that he was also to be the first recipient of the award, he said, “How did you keep this a secret?” An engraved clock, a symbol of the award, was presented to him by Dr. Larry Cain, chairman of the physics department at Davidson College, the ΣΠΣ founding institution. The inscription read as follows:

Dr. Worth Seagondollar. In appreciation for your forty years of dedicated service to students through Sigma Pi Sigma.

Dr. Seagondollar thanked everyone. The room was full of his friends and colleagues who had come to see him honored. As he walked back to his seat, every person in the room spontaneously stood and applauded as he passed by.

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