Honoring Exemplary Service: Gary White and Willie Rockward

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Singularities - Profiles in Physics

Honoring Exemplary Service: Gary White and Willie Rockward


Kendra Redmond, Editor

In recognition of exemplary commitment and service to SPS and Sigma Pi Sigma, the SPS Executive Committee may bestow a rare Worth Seagondollar Service Award on a deserving member. During a memorable moment at PhysCon 2022, the committee presented Seagondollar Awards to both Gary White, editor of The Physics Teacher and adjunct physics professor at George Washington University, and Willie Rockward, chair and physics professor at Morgan State University.

Gary White


Gary White proudly wears his new Worth Seagondollar Service Award medal. Photo by SPS.

In high school, Gary White decided against taking physics. Not because of the subject but because the only person certified to teach physics was the principal—who also happened to be his father. And with no classmates opting to take the subject, the class might have tested their relationship a little too much.

Yet, inspired by the sight of the observatory on campus, White decided to major in physics at Northeast Louisiana University. He went on to earn a physics PhD from Texas A&M University and become a physics professor at Northwestern State University of Louisiana (NSU).

At NSU White cultivated an active, growing department and close-knit student community. He credits SPS for some of this success—SPS resources, and leveraging them, opened the door to many opportunities for his rural Louisiana students. White was eventually elected to the SPS National Council and, in 1999, became president of SPS.

In 2001 White became director of SPS and Sigma Pi Sigma, where he expanded opportunities for physics and astronomy undergraduates in the United States and beyond. Under his leadership, SPS established its unique internship program, took the Physics Congress to a whole new level, developed sessions for undergraduate presenters at professional meetings, promoted diversity in physics, and mentored numerous students and faculty members.

Today, White is the editor of The Physics Teacher, a peer-reviewed journal of the American Association of Physics Teachers. He’s an adjunct physics professor at George Washington University in Washington, DC, and oversees its vibrant SPS and Sigma Pi Sigma chapters.

Willie Rockward


Willie Rockward proudly wears his new Worth Seagondollar Service Award medal. Photo by SPS.

Willie Rockward credits football with getting him into physics. He was a top high school running back in Louisiana, but his mom still made the rules. If he brought home less than a B in math or science, no more football. That motivated him to excel in those subjects.

Rockward dreamed of playing football at Grambling State University. Other schools offered him football scholarships, but Grambling offered only a physics scholarship—which he took. Thanks to a head-on collision with an all-conference linebacker, the physics outlived the football. At Grambling, Rockward joined SPS and was inducted into Sigma Pi Sigma. He eventually earned a physics PhD from Georgia Tech and became a professor at Morehouse College.  

Rockward revitalized the Morehouse SPS chapter, often taking students to national and regional physics meetings. During one SPS zone meeting, the large contingent of Morehouse student presenters caught SPS director Gary White’s attention. He encouraged Rockward to run for SPS Council, and, after serving two terms, Rockward was elected president of Sigma Pi Sigma in 2014.  

As president, Rockward called on honor society members to embrace diversity and look ahead. He encouraged them to invest in the next generation and helped establish a fund supporting student travel to Physics Congresses in perpetuity. 

In 2018 Rockward became chair of the physics and engineering physics department at Morgan State University. Today he’s strengthening that department, advising the Sigma Pi Sigma chapter, and mentoring the SPS advisor as they seek to reactivate the chapter.


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Singularities - Profiles in Physics