Faculty members forge new trails when they Go West. Like their students, instructors at the University of West Georgia make their mark by engaging others. And when they retire, these educators remain part of that bold spirit that is UWG.
The university calls that spirit “Forever West.”
Dr. Bob Powell, professor of physics and director of the UWG Observatory, retired in late 2017 after 50 years of service to his students and the community. In that time, he served as chair of the Department of Physics, directed countless student projects, worked extensively with in-service teachers, and assisted the Fraternity and Sorority Life community as faculty adviser for the Phi Kappa Chapter of the Chi Omega Sorority.
This tireless dedication to UWG and helping its students stand apart from the crowd has not abated following retirement.
Together with his wife, Betty Ballard Powell, and their two children, David Powell and Lisa Powell White, the former professor has generously donated to the University of West Georgia Foundation to create the Dr. Bob Powell and Family Endowed Scholarship.
“The scholarship is designed to help recruit a highly qualified freshman or transfer student to major in physics at UWG,” Powell said. “The students will benefit from financial help to cover expenses during the first year at UWG. After the first year, students majoring in physics at UWG have opportunities to work as assistants in physics laboratory courses or as observatory assistants. They also have opportunities to do research, sometimes as paid assistants.”
Powell received a bachelor’s degree in physics from the Georgia Institute of Technology and his master’s degree and Ph.D. from Clemson University before beginning his teaching career as an assistant professor of physics at age 26 at West Georgia College in September 1967. He started the astronomy program at WGC by teaching the first astronomy course during the fall of 1969.
He was promoted to associate professor in 1970 and to professor in 1975. After receiving a grant from the National Science Foundation to purchase a telescope and designing the observatory, he was named director of the Observatory in 1979. Powell also served as acting chair or chair of the Department of Physics for a total of 11 years. He served as faculty adviser of the Chi Omega Sorority and was named Adviser of the Year (for all student organizations) on three occasions. He was the coordinator of Project STARRR and the WG PREP, both of which were initiatives of the Georgia Board of Regents.
Powell presented over 110 papers or posters at professional meetings and authored more than 30 publications. He was active in the Georgia Academy of Science where he served as president on three occasions, the American Association of Physics Teachers and the Southern Atlantic Coastal Section of the American Association of Physics Teachers. He was elected fellow of the Georgia Academy of Science in 1979 and fellow of the American Association of Physics Teachers in 2013.
In 2015, Powell was made an honorary member of the University of West Georgia Alumni Association. After retirement in December 2017, with 50.5 years of service at the University of West Georgia, Powell was named professor and chair of physics and director of the Observatory emeritus.
For Powell, the creation of the endowed scholarship is personal. It was inspired by his parents, Ralph Powell and Leila Gray Powell of Colquitt County, Georgia, neither of whom attended high school.
Additionally, Betty’s parents – Dr. Charles Ballard, M.D., and Almeda Wyatt Ballard of Pickens, South Carolina – promoted a college education for their daughter. Ballard also made a profound contribution to the career of his future son-in-law by showing him Saturn, Jupiter and the Orion nebula via his homemade telescope.
“Although my parents did not attend high school, they valued education and respected those who had degrees,” Powell said. “They told me before I entered the first grade that I would go to college. I suspect Dad formed this plan when he worked in Atlanta and stayed at a boarding house where some Georgia Tech students lived.”
Powell said that his parents must have felt very fulfilled when he graduated from Georgia Tech, and he is equally proud of his children for receiving their own college degrees. Son David received his accounting degree from Florida State University while Lisa received her bachelor’s degree in English from the University of Georgia and a master’s in English education from Georgia State University.
“I plan to continue the legacy started by my parents by providing the opportunity to obtain college degrees to Betty’s and my three grandchildren,” Powell said. “As a first-generation college graduate, I spent 50 years at UWG teaching and encouraging college students. It is appropriate for part of my legacy to UWG be a scholarship to help others obtain a degree, something my parents did not have but wanted for their son.”
As well as funding the Dr. Bob Powell and Family Endowed Scholarship, Powell continues the Forever West spirit by planning to remain active with the students whose lives are changed by it.
“As long as I am cognitive and mobile, I would like to meet the recipient and be a mentor to that person as long as he or she is a student at UWG,” Powell said.