New Dana Professor appointed © Oct. 2, 2007 Norwich University Office of Communications

Photo of Gary Parker working with a student.

photo by Jay Ericson Dana Professor of Physics Gary Parker works with a student in his classroom.

Norwich University Professor Gary Parker can now add one more accolade to his title. Just announced as a Charles A. Dana Professor of Physics, Parker can now count himself as one of five distinguished individuals teaching on the Northfield, Vt. campus.

“I am very humbled to have been chosen,” Parker said regarding his new appointment. “[Particularly] when I look at this faculty and see the number of outstanding individuals here.”

A professor at the University for 30 years, Parker noted that it has been his “dream career” to be able to teach half of the time and spend the rest conducting research. “Norwich has worked out very well for me,” he said.

The Charles A. Dana professorship was created to “recognize selected faculty for their distinguished achievement in their professional undertakings,” said Dana Professor of History, Gary Lord. “The Dana Professorships at Norwich represent both prestige and profound responsibility.”

And the evidence shows that Parker’s achievements have distinguished him in his field. In describing why Parker received the honor, Dr. Bjong Wolf Yeigh, vice president for academic affairs (VPAA), noted that Parker is an “outstanding scholar, excellent teacher, and leads the faculty and students by example.” Yeigh added that Parker has been awarded five grants from the Atmospheric Sciences Division of the National Science Foundation and has been awarded a NASA EPSCoR grant. Moreover, Parker has taught with distinction eleven of the twelve courses required for the bachelor of science degree in the physics program. “His list of publications, grants awarded, students mentored, and professional activities clearly demonstrate his outstanding ability and the high scholarly attributes required for Dana Professors,” Yeigh said.

Since beginning his career at the Lunar and Planetary Laboratory in Arizona, Parker has cultivated his interest in research. And that hasn’t stopped in the three decades he’s spent teaching in Vermont.

“Central to my research interests are the objects and processes of physics in the solar system,” he said. “Here at Norwich, my primary interest has been space weather.” Parker’s research has led to seven grants from external agencies, 17 refereed papers in journals, seven book contributions, 15 national or international presentations, and more than 50 public presentations to elementary schools and teachers. “My interest in research has never waned,” he said. “There has never been a time when I wasn’t pursuing my research.”

Although not the only consideration in choosing Dana Professors, a tenacious appetite for research is the hallmark of Dana nominees. According to Lord, “scholarship is most important, but leadership, teaching, and service to the university are also considered” when determining nominees.

And the nomination process is anything but easy. Each of Norwich’s six schools can nominate one full professor from its faculty and one faculty member from another school for the Dana Professorship. The names and vitae of each nominee, along with letters of support from the dean of the school, are then sent to a selection committee made up of Norwich’s current Dana Professors. Three finalists are chosen by the committee and submitted to the VPAA and dean of faculty. Next the president receives the list, ranked by the VPAA, and makes the final decision.

Along with the prestige, each Dana Professor receives a significant annual stipend. Dana Professor of Geology Dave Westerman noted that there are “no constraints on its use, but many Dana Professors use those funds to supplement their research efforts. It makes the difference between feeling that I can’t afford to make the extra effort and deciding to go ahead and spend some money.”

Although a stipend is helpful to any professor, it pales in comparison to the other benefits of being chosen as a Dana Professor, Westerman said. “An appointment as a Dana Professor provides recognition for past accomplishments, and it carries the message that your contributions are valued by your colleagues and the University,” he said. “The recipient is propelled forward on a path striving for excellence.”

However, according to Lord, the bonuses that come with a Dana Professorship also come attached with significant responsibilities to the Norwich community.

“The duties of Dana Professors are implicit and the influence of the Dana Professors is symbolic,” Lord said. “Dana Professors ideally are models of involvement in scholarship and teaching and service; they exemplify leadership and commitment to their profession and to the University. The Dana award reinforces my commitment both to my profession and the University. While it provides me with resources to pursue research and other professional activities, it is also a profound responsibility.”

Despite being the newest of Norwich’s Dana Professors, Parker understands the role he’s now expected to play. “I have a responsibility to do what I love to do and be as creative and active a professor as I can be,” he noted. “Receiving the award is a major impulse to keep that work up.”

Nonetheless, whatever he pursues next, Parker knows that Norwich is the place for him. “The idea that the institution is committed to preserving knowledge, disseminating it, and creating it — I feel like those are the pillars of the institution. An institution that does that is a place where I am happy to be.”