Former professor wins prestigious Oersted Award


The Appalachian Online

Laney Ruckstuhl

Retired Appalachian State University professor Karl Mamola has recently been named the recipient of the 2015 Oersted Medal, which honors excellence in physics education.

Mamola, who taught physics while at Appalachian, will receive the award at a ceremony held by the American Association of Physics Teachers (AAPT) in early January of 2015.

“The Oersted Medal recognizes those who have had an outstanding, widespread and lasting impact on the teaching of physics,” said Gay Stewart, the chair for the awards committee.

Past recipients include notable physicists such as Hans Bethe, Carl Sagan and Carl Wieman.

A panel of AAPT members chooses the award.

“The Awards Committee of the AAPT makes the decision,” Stewart said. “Each member reads all the nomination packages and ranks them, and then we come together to make a decision.”

Stewart said Mamola’s impact on Appalachian – and physics education in general – is evidenced by the number of letters he received as nomination.

“Typically we expect a nomination package and three to four letters of support from those respected in the field,” Stewart said. “Karl had seven letters and several emails sent to the chair of the committee.”

Mamola said he was a professor at Appalachian for 48 years before retiring.

“I had heard of Dr. Mamola as a graduate student many years before I arrived on campus as a new department chair in 2000,” said Tony Calamai, the dean of the College of Arts and Sciences.

Mamola said he was an innovative teacher who was always looking for ways to get his students interested.

“I would bring all sorts of apparatus to class from the physics department’s well-equipped stockroom, and use it to demonstrate physical phenomena,” Mamola said. “I felt this made the subjects more interesting and my presentations more engaging.”

Mamola said he not only engaged his students in class, but out of it as well. He cited his interactions with students as his “absolute favorite memories” of being a professor.

“I made myself available in my office as many hours per week as possible,” Mamola said. “Many of my former students became my lifelong friends.”

Angela Owen, a former colleague of Mamola who worked with him for 13 years, said she realized firsthand how good he was at inspiring students.

“When my mother was in the final stages of her illness here in Boone, we had many in-home aides and home health nurses,” Owen said. “Many of them had Dr. Mamola’s physics courses and credited him with setting their feet on the path to their careers.”

Jennifer Burris, the graduate program director for the Department of Physics and Astronomy and close friend of Mamola, said he was always available for advice, friendship, mentoring and teaching.

“Without him around full time, we have lost a leader, a mentor, and a friend, and when he comes to work, the whole building gets a little brighter,” Burris said.

Calamai said Mamola’s actions demonstrated his caring nature.

“After the first or second day after assuming the department chair, Dr. Mamola came to my office, handed me a small relevant gift and told me that I had his full confidence to lead our department,” Calamai said. “I honestly believe that early meeting had a great deal to do with my success at ASU.”

Mamola said he felt very honored to have recieved the award.

“I’m grateful to everyone in the physics teaching community who has supported, inspired and befriended me during my career.”

Story: Thomas Culkin, Intern News Reporter