The Cycle of Inspiration

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The Cycle of Inspiration

Alum donor pays it forward


Candice Fazar, Associate Professor of Physics, Roberts Wesleyan College, Rochester, NY

In the spring of 2012, a student in our Society of Physics Students chapter learned about the upcoming Quadrennial Physics Conference in Orlando, Florida, and during one of my lectures, proposed that the chapter attend the meeting. The majority of the students in the chapter had strong interest in going, even if they had to pay some of the costs themselves.

A simple calculation indicated that if everybody attended we were going to need more than $8,000 to cover all the costs. Fortunately, Roberts Wesleyan College (RWC) has a strong alumni network that supports the school and its students. As I considered how to raise the money, I thought of one particularly special alum: Neal Redmond, who graduated from RWC in 1978 and was inducted into the physics honor society the next year as a graduate student at Adelphi University in Garden City, New York. While working first for Lockheed Martin and subsequently for Science Applications International Corporation, Neal remained involved at RWC as a trustee and donor.

The RWC chapter at the 2012 PhysCon.  Photo courtesy of Candice Fazar.

When I first met him in 2006, Neal made it a point to let me know that physics at RWC is in his heart. I remember telling him that I would love to be able someday to give back to my alma mater in honor of my professors there, because I was so thankful for what they had given me. He told me that was the very reason he chose to give to RWC. Proud of the legacy left by his physics and engineering professors, Philip M. Ogden and Donald D. Kerlee, Neal created and endowed the Ogden and Kerlee Scholarships for physics and engineering students at RWC. He asked me to contact him if we needed any additional support.

When our SPS chapter started in 2009, we had an enthusiastic group of students and very little money. I funded a few initial get-togethers out of my own pocket so that the students could have pizza to go with their movie nights or Nerf gun wars. We also managed to attend an American Association of Physics Teachers conference in nearby Syracuse that year. Although we did not need much additional funding, Neal generously donated funds to cover lodging.

After that exciting start, though, the group became rather small and relatively inactive for a few years. Despite my repeated prompts, new members were not as interested in doing things as the inaugural group.

But our classroom discussion about the 2012 PhysCon excited them again. I reached out to Neal, and he donated more than $3,000 to cover my travel costs and the conference registration fees for each student. With this overly generous springboard, we were able to fundraise enough money for six students to attend with minimal out-of-pocket expense.

Attending PhysCon was an absolutely amazing experience, as any one of the students would tell you. Two students toured labs at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. Two other students presented their research. All enjoyed the talks and group events, which gave them a view of the greater community of physics students and a deeper appreciation for how to fit in. The trip breathed new life into the group and birthed within the students a sense of connection to the greater physics community. Last spring we started a Sigma Pi Sigma chapter to celebrate academic excellence and service, two values of our physics department. We decided that our Sigma Pi Sigma chapter was going to help our city school students in math and physics.

None of this would have happened without Neal’s incredible support. We invited him to our inaugural Sigma Pi Sigma ceremony as an honored guest, along with professor Ogden, now retired. The ceremony brought together RWC students and alumni for the first time, and we inducted several alumni who had graduated before our Sigma Pi Sigma chapter was established.

We hope to continue the tradition of holding an induction ceremony and inviting Sigma Pi Sigma alumni to a catered dinner. Maintaining a connection between students and alumni is important, not just to encourage donations. Our students will someday become alumni themselves, and we want them to invest in a cycle of inspiration and encouragement that will continue from generation to generation at RWC.

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