Dr. Andy Wallace: Master Builder
March 05, 2012
A member of the physics faculty since 1989 and department head since 1998, Wallace has spearheaded efforts that led to the physics program being named one of the best in the U.S. by Physics Today.
“Starting in 1998, it took about eight years to build a nationally recognized physics program here,” Wallace said. “To build what we have, you have to start with the people, and it took about eight years to get a tenured core of faculty in place.”
“The national physics organizations are coming to Texas, and ASU is the first case study school they will look at to help other programs.”
“The ability to implement a geosciences program when those types of programs were being closed even more across the state than physics, that is something else I am proud of,” he added. “I’m convinced that program is going to be larger than physics some day. In only its second semester, our geosciences program already has 51 declared majors.”
Accomplishments like that have grabbed the attention of national organizations, including the American Institute of Physics, American Physical Society and American Association of Physics Teachers (AAPT).
“Our department will once again be a case study at a national meeting this year in Austin,” Wallace said. “We’ve lost 10 of the 24 undergraduate physics programs in Texas already, and some of the others are right on the edge of the chopping block. The national physics organizations are coming to Texas, and ASU is the first case study school they will look at to help other programs. To be safe, you had to have at least 25 physics graduates over the last five years, and we had 53.”
One major reason the ASU Physics Department has remained strong is the student recruiting program Wallace implemented in 1998 that has resulted in sustained annual enrollment growth in physics majors and an average of 10-plus physics graduates a year.
“There are only 33 of the 575 undergraduate physics programs in the U.S. that graduate 10 or more students a year,” Wallace said. “That is the latest information from the American Institute of Physics. It is really nice to have ASU’s physics department mentioned in that context at the national level.”
Wallace’s efforts on behalf of the physics program have also earned him individual honors, including two Rammy Awards from the ASU Student Government Association and a Certificate of Appreciation from the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) National Air and Radiation Environmental Laboratory. He has also been named a Distinguished Educator by U.S. Air Force ROTC.
“That is a national award,” Wallace said, “and when you look at the number of people who compete nationally and the few who win it, it is the most significant teaching award I have ever received.”
Also an active campus advocate, Wallace is a member of the university’s Budget Task Force, Teacher Education Council, Student Financial Aid Committee and the SACS Steering Committee that is charged with renewing ASU’s national accreditation. He is also a national physics program review consultant and president-elect of the Texas Section AAPT. His primary focus, however, remains on continuing to fortify the physics and geosciences programs.
“I still enjoy trying to grow our programs in this difficult environment,” Wallace said. “What physicists do is solve problems. While the challenges of growing the program are not physics or math problems, they are the types of problems on which we can use the kind of thinking we are trained in to solve—and we’ve been growing at 4–5 percent a year since 2006.”
In his limited spare time, Wallace is an avid computer gamer, shooter and car buff. His wife, LaDonna, is a retired county deputy, and his son, Addison, is a junior math major at ASU.