2019 Physics Graduates

May 2019

Allen Greene


Allen J. Greene came to Radford University from Hurt, Virginia.  In his words, a “…super small town about 25 miles south of Lynchburg.”  But no matter how small the town, our students go on to do big things.  Allen is a member of Sigma Pi Sigma and was elected President by his fellow members. 

In addition to his Physics Major and Mathematics Minor classes, Allen takes time to work as a Peer Role Model in the REALISE program.  “…although I have always loved science and physics, I never thought I could actually succeed.”  This is a sentiment that college students seem to have all too often when they first come to any college.  Upon learning that “…the program was aimed at assisting the coming generations with the struggles I had been through myself I put in an application immediately.”  This one-on-one tutoring approach has not only proven helpful to many of Allen’s classmates, but it has given them a way to connect with other Physics students and create a community of learners.  “I’ve found Radford University to be a very welcoming and inclusive environment, and I wouldn’t have felt as though my time here were complete not having done my part in that!”

Allen participated in a research project with Dr. Brett Taylor to “…determine whether something coated in ice travelled through a fluid with any significant loss of friction.”  If given the opportunity, he would like to continue with another research topic, General Relativity which explains “…the motion of the planets; it can also describe the history and expansion of the universe, the physics of black holes and the bending of light from distant stars and galaxies.”(https://www.newscientist.com/round-up/instant-expert-general-relativity/)  Going to graduate school is also a future goal, however for the present, he has already received an offer to continue working at his current job with a re-location to the Outer Banks.

For his current classmates and future RU students, Allen has this advice: “Don’t give up, believe in yourself, and ask questions!  There are so many great resources (REALISE) designed around making your time here as smooth and beneficial as possible that if you seek proper assistance, you will find it.”

Benjamin Zachary


As a middle school student, Benjamin Zachary had a passion for Physics.  Learning about “…time travel, black holes, gravity, [and the] creation of the universe…” were always topics that interested him.  In High School however, Benjamin was diverted from Physics and when he initially came to Radford University he earned his Bachelor’s degree in Theatre Arts with a Minor in German.  “My German professor, Dr. Phillip Sweet, persuaded me into getting a Master’s Degree from Virginia Tech in Education.”  This allowed Benjamin to “…travel and work around the world.  I lived and taught in Moscow, Russia and the Middle East for a combined five years.”  At that point his attention was again, drawn back to Physics. 

Benjamin was awarded an internship at LSU in Baton Rouge, Louisiana from the National Science Foundation (NSF).  During the summer of 2018, Benjamin and a team at LSU researched Laser Intensity and Frequency Stabilization.  Research that was possible with the help of recommendation letters from his professors here at Radford University.  The result was recognition among his peers and other researchers in the field of Physics.  This research and the belief that “…it is almost our personal duty to investigate the laws of the universe and how we got here and why,” will follow him to the University of Virginia where he has been accepted into the PhD program. 

RU Physics professors are here to help their students succeed.  Benjamin and others have found that asking questions during class, attending the Physics help sessions offered at least three times a week and just watching professors, or peers, work through examples is a huge help in learning the course material and understanding the concepts introduced in Physics.  From his initial degree at RU to this latest accomplishment, we are very proud that Benjamin has found that Radford University is a place that will always welcome students back to help begin the next chapter in their lives.

Cory Ashworth


Cory Ashworth decided to pursue a degree in Physics while still in high school.  His high school Physics class gave him a taste for the experimentation and research experience that would benefit him in his drive to succeed.  With the resources offered at Radford University, Cory was able to make those plans a reality.  The Accelerated Research Opportunities (ARO) program and Office of Undergraduate Research and Scholarship (OURS) department are just a few of the financial resources that RU has for hard workers like Cory and he “…would like to take this opportunity to thank the ARO/OURS program for the contribution on most of my research and introducing me to Dr. Huston my Freshman year.

Dr. Shawn Huston was a big influence on Cory’s college journey.  He “…pushed me every day to be a better student, even when I wanted to be lazy.”  Everyone needs a helping hand and in the Physics department, there are multiple faculty and other resources to help each student thrive.  With the finances and faculty mentors beside him, Cory was able to perform “…research using a scanning tunneling microscope (STM) operated under ultra-high vacuum conditions at cryogenic temperatures.”  He was able to present his findings at a conference in Boston, Massachusetts.  The conference was an annual meeting of the American Physics Society, which is a gathering of Physicists around the world.  Presentation and networking are important aspects of research and Cory, as with most of our seniors, was able to participate in this, and other, opportunities.

Getting a job will be Cory’s first priority after graduation.  A “…full time job that I love…” is everyone’s goal, but with the determination that he has shown over the last four years we, in the Physics department, believe that Cory will succeed!

Fred Woodall


Like so many of us, Fred Woodall had several changes of heart before he decided on Physics as his major.  With his transferred credits from High School, and the local college in his hometown of Ridgeway, Virginia, Fred was able to get a jump start on several of the core class requirements of a new Freshman.  From Anesthesiology to Engineering and then to Physics, Fred’s journey was just beginning.

After falling into a marshland near Lot Z, near the river, during a freshman Biology class, he decided that the medical profession wasn’t for him and went toward the Physics and Engineering track.  While taking the Physics classes, Fred “…loved particle physics and electricity and magnetism provided by Dr. Jaronski and Dr. Taylor respectively.”  He was able to enjoy “…electronics and the hands on creations we made in there.  I liked the understanding of Physics even though it was my first exposure to such a subject, and it took me about two semesters to finally match the math with the real life occurrences.”  Once he did, Fred was off and running! 

After graduation, Fred will be entering the PhD program at Washington State University.  His goal is to be the first member of his family to earn a PhD and we are confident that he will succeed!  Armed with his PhD, Fred would like to possibly start his own business or “…go into the private sector working as a research engineer or research manager working on new technologies.” 

Fred’s advice for his younger self, and other freshmen, is to “…learn more, procrastinate less…” and “Don’t let anyone get in your way, not even yourself.”  We look forward to hearing about Fred’s success and the new paths that Radford University helped him open.

James Noel


What do Physics and Music have in common?  They are both passions of James Noel.  James started out at Radford University with Music Performance as a Major and the Guitar is his instrument of choice.  Two years later, James’ curiosity about the natural sciences started to reveal itself and he “…figured that if I wanted to learn the most that I could about each of them, Physics would be the degree to choose.”  “I love that every branch of science traces back to Physics.”  However, he decided to keep Musical Performance as his Minor and so continued his love for playing guitar music.

One of the first things a graduate has to think about after school is getting a job; a career path that interests them and can support them and/or a family.  Radford University boasts of an over fifty percent rate of graduates that already have jobs in their chosen field upon graduation.  Field training and hands-on lab courses are the norm in the RU Physics department.  After a research project with Dr. Sandra Liss on Nuclear Energy and Waste, James has decided on a career in the same field.  He has already signed on to work as a Health Physicist at the Dominion Energy North Anna Nuclear Power Plant in Louisa County, Virginia which is just beside his hometown of Mineral, Virginia.  

One worthy aspect of the Radford University experience is that we teach our students to enjoy the process of learning.  After twelve years of basic education and four years of, often grueling, college work, most of our graduates are still hungry for more knowledge.  James is no exception and eventually plans to get his Masters certificate in Nuclear Engineering from Virginia Tech.  With an RU Physics degree, James is well prepared to meet the challenges that his new career and future endeavors might bring him.  James has these words for future Physics students: “…go for it.  Don’t be afraid to ask questions, get to know your peers [and] mentors, and put in the long days…Physics is the most challenging, interesting subject you can study…” 

Mark Meadows


“The Radford Physics department is truly special in that it is a tight knit community with caring professors…”

When Mark Meadows decided to stay at Radford University instead of transferring to VT after his first two years, he dove into his Radford experience head first.  As a Physics major, he concentrated on Earth and Space and minored in Mathematics and Business Administration.   From Virginia Beach, Virginia Mark brought with him a love of Ultimate Frisbee and here on Radford’s campus he was able to join a Team for fun, exercise and relaxation. 

Speaking about his decision to major in Physics Mark said, “I really enjoy learning about how things work and Physics is how everything works.”  He was able to join the 2017 Arctic Geophysics class research trip to Barrow, Alaska and then use that experience to jumpstart his own independent study research project.  In Alaska, Mark “…had the opportunity to work with a piece of equipment called the OhmMapper.  Traditionally, the OhmMapper is used to create an image of what’s underneath a surface…”  “We used the OhmMapper in a non-traditional way to measure the thickness of sea ice.”  After collecting and analyzing data “…imaging the surface structure of elements at the atomic level…,” Mark was part of a team that presented findings at a meeting of the American Geophysical Union where Physicists world-wide were able to observe the results of the team’s research.

Mark’s other research opportunities centered around the Scanning Tunneling Microscope with Dr. Huston.  Mark was instrumental in repairing and reassembling this piece of specialized equipment involving “…meticulous work with wires...” and “…the body of the microscope.”

Mark’s future plans include joining the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).  “The purpose of the Corp. is to man…research vessels and hurricane tracker planes.  …officers also get scuba certified and conduct missions to take data around the globe. …the special forces of data taking!”

Matt Van Shufflin


Matt came to Radford University from Stephens City, Virginia.  Like many high school students, Matt was unsure of what he wanted to study when he came to RU.  He decided on Physics as one of his majors because “…it sounded interesting.”  What he found out was that Physics “…teaches you how to learn.  Yes, you end up with a greater understanding of physical sciences, but the necessary development of learning processes that are applicable to countless other fields and areas of life are invaluable.”  These learning skills helped him with Chemistry and Biology when he decided to TRIPLE MAJOR along with Physics. 

During Matt’s time at RU, along with Teaching Assistant duties, he was able to shadow Dr. Webster’s research in the absorption properties of nano-carbon particles, as well as his own research with bio-remediation in biology with Dr. Hammond.  His enjoyment of these experiences led to this advice for future students: “Enjoy the Process!  Obtaining a solution is just a result; learning how… is a delightful journey.”

From the Army ROTC and the RU Emergency Medical Services (RUEMS) to campus organizations like Sigma Pi Sigma, Phi Kappa Phi, Omicron Delta Kappa and the American Chemical Society, Matt’s journey has been packed with learning adventures.  Upon graduation, Matt will be commissioned as an Army Officer and continue his education at the Uniformed Services University to become a US Army Physician.

Melanie Lucas


In Mechanicsville, Virginia, Melanie Lucas was told that she“…wasn’t smart enough to get a degree.”  After earning a degree in Physics and Religious Studies with a Minor in French, she has proven them wrong.  Her favorite class was electronics “…because we got to build things.  My favorite part about Physics is that it attempts to explain the mechanics behind how the world operates.”

In her time with the Physics department she was able to learn how to operate and run the Radford University Planetarium shows that are open to the public on a weekly basis.  She spends several evening, weekend and even summer hours showing guests the stars and explaining various aspects that she has learned in her Radford experience.  This involvement earned her the nickname “Captain Melly.”

After graduation Melanie will begin a job with Radford University Facilities and then, “Maybe they will offer me something more permanent, maybe I’ll find a good engineering job…” “The world has been opened up to me and I go to seek a great perhaps.”

When asked about advice for future students she said, “You are not in this alone, so don’t try to be.  It is okay to ask for help.”

Michael Hess


Michael Hess came to Radford University from Roanoke, Virginia.  He Majored in Physics and Minored in Astronomy.  Between these two disciplines, Michael has worked hard to earn the title of Dean’s Scholar for Spring 2019.  He is also a member of the Society of Physics Students and Sigma Pi Sigma, as well as, being a TA (Teaching Assistant) during the Spring semester. 

In between all of the work and activity, Michael was able to assist Dr. Herman in “…designing and testing a homemade micro-resistivity array which uses electrical signals to look into the ground.”  This data gathering equipment was taken to Barrow, Alaska in 2016, 2018 and will be used again during the 2020 research trip.  Being a key design engineer for leading-edge technology is only part of the exciting things that Michael has been able to participate in while at RU.  Research that he has been doing since he arrived in the Physics program allowed him to travel to the American GeoPhysical Union’s Fall meeting in Washington D.C.  International physicists were able to see Michael’s work and appreciate the “…extreme emphasis [on] the real world applications to everything we learned…” 

Only scheduling conflicts prevented him from taking Observational Astronomy with Dr. Sandra Liss and so, armed with his Bachelor’s Degree in Physics, Michael is preparing to enter Graduate School and take up the topic he minored in, Astronomy.  Eventually he is looking forward to becoming “…an active part of the Astronomy community.” 

Equipping our students to succeed in their studies, as well as life after school, is a personal goal of everyone who works at Radford University.  One life skill that Michael will take with him is this:  “The most important thing I learned about Physics is that it is a skill that requires practice.  It is not something that some people can do and others just can’t.  Solving problems in Physics should be treated the same as playing an instrument.  It will require practice and will be difficult.  Getting questions wrong, having to rework homework problems multiple times before you understand them, and attending tutoring or study sessions are all part of this process for everyone. …it is one of the most rewarding skills to have and is attainable to anyone who puts in the time and effort.”

Percie Lyons


As one of the few female Physics majors at Radford University, Percie Lyons has redefined the stereotypical image of the typical Physics student.  Percie came to RU as a Sports Medicine Major with the intention of helping fellow athletes.  She has been a member of the Radford Cross Country and Track & Field teams as well as their Captain.  As her interests narrowed, she decided that a Physics major and a Mathematics minor would suit her future goals better and was able to become a member of Sigma Pi Sigma, the National Physics Fraternity

There are multiple fields that a student can use to understand how the human body works and learn how to repair or assist its function.  Percie changed her major to Physics after her first semester as her interest focused on understanding and building prosthetic limbs for patients.  During her time here, she has done an independent study to build “…a motorized…leg brace.  The idea is that I will use this basic prototype and improve upon it in the future to support someone who has been paralyzed in the leg and allow them support and the ability to sit, stand, and walk with assistance from the motors.”  Her graduate plans are to attend Virginia Tech to earn a Master’s degree in Engineering Mechanics.  This will allow her to refine her prosthetic leg design and possibly create other designs to revolutionize the field.  “I want to help those injured or impaired to live a more normal life by improving their ability to complete simple tasks, like walking.”

Being a Cross Country, Track & Field team member and Captain, Percie has learned the value of perseverance and the importance of teammates.  As a Physics major, she has made good use of those skills.  “…it is a difficult major and a hard path to take, but it’s all worth it.  Definitely don’t be afraid to go talk to the professors, they are extremely helpful.”  From the track to the laboratory, Percie has made good use of her time here at Radford University and will benefit from the hard work and pride that she has put into every aspect.

Ryan Fry


From Suffolk, Virginia, Ryan Fry was a visitor to Radford University’s campus as a high school student.  He learned about the Dual Degree Program that RU has with Virginia Tech and his plans to become an engineer were solidified.  He would spend two years here and then transfer to VT to finish a dual degree in Physics and Engineering. 

After being with RU for two years, he realized that Radford was the place that he wanted to stay and started speaking with his advisor, Dr. Rhett Herman, about career options with a Radford University Physics degree.  Dr. Herman gave Ryan many options that fulfilled his dreams of an engineering career and so Ryan was able to stay with us for the full four years. 

In his time at Radford University, Ryan has been able to travel to Tennessee and join the nationwide effort to conduct research on the solar corona during the solar eclipse in August 2017. He also spent over a year working on a major arctic geophysics research effort. This work culminated in a 2-week research trip to Utqiagvik (ne’ Barrow), Alaska in February/March of 2018. He was a crucial part of a select team of students and faculty who deployed a microcontroller based sensor platform of their own design on the arctic sea ice to study the energy balance of the planet’s north polar ice cap.

Ryan presented the results of the Alaska research at the 2018 Fall Meeting of the American Geophysical Union, the world’s largest gathering of earth and space scientists. He appreciated that these are the types of opportunities that undergraduates at other schools just don’t have, but are common for Radford University students.

After graduating in May, Ryan will be going to Appalachian State University to pursue his Master’s degree in Engineering Physics.  Ultimately, he “…would like to…teach Physics on a University Level and help students learn to love Physics as my professors have done for me.”

For incoming freshmen, Ryan has this to say:  “…get involved in your major and find a community of people striving to achieve similar goals as you.”  “I was given opportunities that showed me my true worth and forged relationships that I will never forget.”

Tate McPherson


The 2019 Radford University, Physics Department graduating class is made up of all different kinds of people, including Tate McPherson.  Tate is from Blacksburg, Virginia and with his Physics major has specialized in Earth and Space Science; his minor is in Mathematics.  He initially signed up to be a Physics major because he “…wanted to be a lawyer and Physics majors have, on average, the highest LSAT scores.”  During his time here Tate’s favorite professor was Dr. Herman “…because he has a learner’s approach to teaching.”  His favorite aspect about Physics overall is that “…it trains you to analyze everything.”

One of Tate’s passions is cars.  A future goal is to learn more about the “…physics involved in a working car.”  Formula Drift racing cars are fascinating for him and in addition to wanting to know more about how they work, he just finds that “…driving cars sideways is way cooler than driving them forward.”  We would have to agree.  Even though he wasn’t too worried about his grade in Intermediate Mechanics, Tate has proven that Physics allows you to be fun and creative while still working hard to achieve goals.  Taking advantage of tutoring and other resources here in the RU Physics department has given Tate a foundation that he can build upon in any field that he chooses from here.  From Formula Drift to snowboarding, in five years look for Tate to be “…eating croutons on fat stacks of cash.”  

Zachary Gwyn


Zachary Gwyn came to Radford University from Bastian, Virginia.  He Majored in Physics and Minored in Mathematics.  During his college career, Zachary was a part of several organizations including: the STEM Club, Society of Physics Students, Next Gen Elites, Sigma Pi Sigma and the American Astronomical Society.  He was a Next Gen Elites Scholar through the National Science Foundation, a LEAD Scholar and part of the Sigma Pi Sigma National Physics Honors Society.  In between classes and group meetings, Zachary was part of an intermural basketball and softball team, worked as a Financial Aid peer counselor and completed an Internship at Somic America.

After completing a year working toward a Bachelor’s degree in Software Engineering, Zachary started to realize that “…the countless hours I would spend staring at a computer screen for the rest of my life wasn’t worth the handsome salary that came with it.”  Being more of a hand’s on person, Zachary understood that he wanted to be involved with a Science Technology Engineering Mathematics (STEM) program, but which one?  A quote by Neil deGrasse Tyson gave him an answer:  “In whatever you choose to do, do it because it’s hard, not because it’s easy.  Math and Physics and Astrophysics are hard.  For every hard thing you accomplish, fewer other people are out there doing the same thing as you.  That’s what doing something hard means.  And in the limit of this, everyone beats a path to your door because you’re the only one around who understands the impossible concept or who solves the unsolvable problem.”

Working closely with Dr. Michael Freed for a year and a half “…attempting to better understand the role that turbulence may or may not have in the magnetic reconnection process found in solar phenomena,” helped change Zachary’s “…perception of the world we live in.” and to be “…exposed to ideas that I had never considered before, and each of these ideas stem from our basic human desire to better understand the universe we live in.”  Upon graduating Zachary is headed to Gainsville, Florida to pursue a Master’s degree in Aerospace Engineering at the University of Florida in order to further his dream of working for NASA, Space X, RocketLabs, or other space exploration company to engineer better ways to “…advance our progress into one of man’s most difficult frontiers.”