by Jessica Jervis-Viville

The universe is constantly expanding, and so are the minds of physics students across the country thanks to educators like the University of West Georgia’s Dr. Bob Powell who has dedicated the past 50 years to ensuring that students are continually learning about the field. A member of the American Association of Physics Teachers (AAPT), he was recently honored by the association for contributing to its mission of enhancing the understanding and appreciation of physical sciences.

Expanding their Minds: West Georgia Physics Professor Earns Top Honor
Dr. Bob Powell and Janelle Baily, stand close together indoors

“My career here at West Georgia has involved working with physics majors and I have tried to enhance them,” said Professor and Director of UWG Observatory Powell, who recently led a group of students on a research trek to the line of totality during August’s Great American Eclipse. “I’ve recruited new majors. I have tried to train them and equip them to go to positions of employment, as well as go to graduate school to prepare additional master’s and Ph.D. students.”

One of AAPT’s most prestigious honors is its AAPT Fellow, and this year Powell was named one of the recipients. In order to receive a fellowship, one must be an active member and have contributed to its mission. It is a peer nominated distinction.

“It’s an high honor here in the twilight of my career,” explained Powell, who will retire in December 2017. “Being a named a fellow of a national organization is an extremely high honor, and I was delighted to receive it.”

Powell has been able to significantly contribute to the organization and has had a profound impact on his peers. In the 1970s he founded the Southern Atlantic Coast Section of AAPT. He originally served as secretary-treasurer and rose through the ranks throughout the years. He then served as president for two terms. It’s during this time he learned how to improve his teaching style.

“I learned there are new teaching styles that I employ in my classroom. When I was going through physics as an undergraduate, all we had was the lecture method and depending on the class a few demonstrations,” Powell recounted. “Now I teach with demonstrations extensively. I give them a problem and time to individually address it, and then assign a group activity to check the results.”

After decades of work with the organization, Powell continues to believe that physics is an important field of study.

“Physics gives us a basis for things we do in our everyday life,” explained Powell. “Physics improves our everyday life. It was heavily involved in the space program, and from the work it did, we were able to send astronauts to the moon. Physics should be appreciated very highly.”

AAPT has had a huge influence in Powell’s life, and he is optimistic that future generations of physics leaders will join AAPT and continue the work that he has started.

“AAPT is really important for novice teachers, both at the high school and the college levels,” he stated. “It gives them way of learning more about pedagogy and helps them to establish relationships, which could lead to mentorships.”

Presently, Powell serves AAPT as a member of Committee on the Interests of Senior Members, a member of the Investment Advisory Committee and Section Representative of Southern Atlantic Coast.

He hopes to leave an impactful and compelling legacy behind.

“I hope that I’ll be remembered as someone who had a passion for physics and the teaching of physics, and that I contributed organizationally.”

Posted on August 31, 2017