Professor Emeritus Endows Scholarship for Physics, Astronomy Students

Professor Emeritus Endows Scholarship for Physics, Astronomy Students

During Fall Alumni Weekend, Friday, Nov. 16, 2018, at the new Rita Liddy Hollings Science Center, Sebastian van Delden, interim dean for the College of Charleston’s School of Sciences and Mathematics, announced the Bob Dukes Endowed Scholarship, which builds on the original scholarship that Bob Dukes, professor emeritus for the Department of Physics and Astronomy, and his wife Anne set up in 2014.

“It’s not surprising that Bob would do something supportive of our future students,” says Laura Penny, professor with the Department of Physics and Astronomy. “He is a great mix of high standards and kindheartedness. Bob has always been supportive of undergraduate education and has really been there for our students and the department.”

Bob Dukes

Dukes joined the College of Charleston faculty in 1974. At that time the only astronomy course was an introductory course. Dukes slowly built up the astronomy aspect of the physics department, adding a junior-level course in the late 1970s and a senior-level course in the early 1980s. His tenacity led to more upper-division courses, and ultimately a B.A. in astronomy and a B.S. in astrophysics.

Throughout his time at the College, Dukes thought about how to increase the number of students and improve the student experience. When he became department chair in 1992, he had some major wins.

“During his tenure, Bob doubled the number of students and faculty,” says Jeff Wragg, senior instructor with the Department of Physics and Astronomy. “That says a lot about our program.”

It also says a lot about Dukes. He didn’t just mentor college students in astronomy, he mentored high school students and set up summer research for students. His dedication to students is why he received the coveted Teach Scholar Award.

The program was one that many alumni who took astronomy remember.

“It sticks with graduates,” says Penny. “Bob did a lot of things that were ahead of his time. For example, he received an NSF [National Science Foundation] grant to formalize the observation part of the astronomy lab program so that students were afforded the maximum opportunity to study the night sky while improving critical thinking skills.”

What really put the CofC astrophysics program on the map, however, was the installation of a state-of-the-art telescope in southern Arizona in 1989, which was computer-controlled out of the College.

“A lot of undergraduate research projects were conducted on that telescope over the next twenty years,” says Dukes.

That research led to many of Dukes’ students going on to do amazing things at places like NASA, NOAA and Boeing in fields including oceanography, nuclear engineering, astrodynamics and space science.

And now Dukes is excited about the new, more sophisticated telescope that sits atop the Rita Liddy Hollings Science Center.

“It’s definitely cutting edge for a school of this size,” he says.

Despite the huge increase in students during his tenure, Dukes wanted to do more to recruit quality students to the College’s astrophysics program. That’s why he set up the Bob Dukes Scholarship in Astrophysics and has now endowed it.

“I wanted to offer a recruitment tool for the College’s physics and astronomy department,” Dukes says. “The scholarship begins freshman year and continues as long as the student maintains a 3.2 GPA or higher.”

The first student to take advantage of the program is Will Ceva.

“I chose to attend the College of Charleston because it is the only college in South Carolina with an astronomy program,” explains Ceva, a senior majoring in astrophysics. “I have been passionate about astronomy since middle school, so majoring in astrophysics was something I had always intended to do. One memory that comes to mind was reading an article in Astronomy magazine while in high school about Dr. [Joseph] Carson‘s discovery of an exoplanet. I am now working on research with Dr. Carson.

Ceva adds, “Receiving the Bob Dukes Scholarship has been an honor. I feel inspired to perform as best as possible academically and produce the best research I can in order to live up to the honor of this scholarship.”

That’s exactly why Bob and Anne Dukes decided to endow the scholarship. Now students can receive funding from him for years to come.

Photos by Heather Moran