MTSU physics professor William M. Robertson, honored Thursday, Aug. 22, with the university’s highest faculty honor for his teaching, research and service to students, said his colleagues are equally responsible for his accomplishments.
“Getting an award for a career that has brought me such joy seems almost a little embarrassing, but don’t let that notion in any way diminish the enormous gratitude I feel, both for the award itself and for all the folks who helped make my career possible,” Robertson, the 2019 recipient of the MTSU Foundation’s Career Achievement Award, said during the university’s Fall Faculty Meeting in Tucker Theatre.
“At the end of my very first year as a professor here, I reflected on the fact that I’d worked harder than I’d ever worked in industry or at national labs and I’d taken a 40 percent pay cut to do so, but I also realized that this was the best move that I’d ever made, and I’ve had that same thought every year since.”
Robertson, a professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy at MTSU since 1995, is internationally recognized for his collaborations with undergraduate students on fast acoustic and electric pulse tunneling and his patents for optical sensors and acoustic lenses.
Charged with encouraging more undergrad research for physics majors and helping to draw more non-majors into the department, Robertson used his experience to develop a physics research program with undergraduate students as key participants. Then, despite having no background in acoustics or music, Robertson developed a course in the physics of popular music specifically to attract non-majors.
Combining his interests led Robertson to split his research between optics and acoustics and obtain external grants, including funding from the National Science Foundation, to support it and the undergrad efforts. He also developed and served as interim director for MTSU’s Computational Science Ph.D. Program.
After thanking his wife, teacher and consultant Dr. Sharon Felton, and the former MTSU department head who hired him, Dr. Robert Carlton, Robertson praised his departmental colleagues for their willingness to help him, and each other, to support their interests and serve students.
“The atmosphere goes far beyond mere collegiality,” Robertson said. “Department faculty have agreed to take on heavier loads, cover classes, accept awkward schedules, in order to give relief, particularly to those of us trying to pursue research, and I benefited from that level of sacrifice from my colleagues and I’ve benefited also from their friendship, advice and support.
“I could not have achieved what I’ve done in my career without their help, so in a very real way, my success is their success.”
Robertson, who studied in India, Australia and England, earned his Bachelor of Science in physics from London’s Imperial College and his master’s and doctoral degrees from Purdue University in Indiana. He also served as a post-doctoral researcher, first at the Argonne National Laboratory in Illinois and then at IBM’s T. J. Watson Research Center in New York, and a research officer at National Research Council Canada before accepting his MTSU position.
His current research and development at MTSU includes acoustic and photonic band gap materials, acoustic metamaterials, fast and slow wave phenomena, surface electromagnetic excitations including surface plasmons and surface waves on photonic crystals, label-free biosensing, signal processing of speech and musical sound manipulation, and the design of innovative diffractive optics.
MTSU Foundation President Ron Nichols presented Robertson with his award during the annual gathering, which recognizes, celebrates and rewards university faculty members for their accomplishments in and outside the classroom. MTSU President Sidney A. McPhee also presented his 2019 State of the University address, which is available at http://bit.ly/MTSUSOTU2019.
Nichols (B.S. ’70) also honored 14 more MTSU professors for their achievements during the event.
The five recipients of the foundation’s 2019 Outstanding Teaching Award are:
• Dr. Mary Beth Asbury, Department of Communication Studies.
• Dr. Vishwas Bedekar, Department of Engineering Technology.
• Dr. Christina Cobb, Department of University Studies.
• Dr. Kate Pantelides, Department of English.
• Dr. Andrew Polk, Department of History.
The nine additional foundation award recipients for 2019 are:
• Outstanding General Education Award — Dr. Aliou Ly, Department of History.
• Outstanding Achievement in Instructional Technology Awards — Dr. Andrew Fialka, Department of History; Dr. Ryan Korstange, Department of University Studies; and Dr. Joan McRae, Department of World Languages, Literatures and Cultures.
• Outstanding Public Service Awards — Cynthia Allen, Department of Environmental Health and Safety; Dr. Diane Edmondson, Department of Marketing; and Dr. Carroll Van West, Center for Historic Preservation and Department of History.
• Distinguished Research Award — Dr. Song Cui, School of Agriculture.
• Special Projects Award — Tom Neff, Department of Media Arts.
The university also recognized 12 new faculty emeriti, a new associate provost emerita and 77 newly promoted and/or tenured faculty members across campus. The complete 2019 MTSU Foundation Awards program, which includes more details about the award winners and other honorees, is available at http://bit.ly/MTSUFacultyAwards2019.
MTSU’s 108th academic year begins Monday, Aug. 26, with the first day of fall 2019 classes.
— Gina E. Fann (firstname.lastname@example.org)
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