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Thomas L. O'KumaThomas L. O’Kuma Recognized with AAPT’s 2015 Melba Newell Phillips Medal


College Park, Maryland, United States, September 2, 2014—The American Association of Physics Teachers (AAPT) announced today that the Melba Newell Phillips Medal has been awarded to Thomas L. O’Kuma, Physics Faculty, Lee College, Baytown, Texas, in recognition of his creative leadership and dedicated service that have resulted in exceptional contributions within AAPT.

The Medal will be presented during a Ceremonial Session of the AAPT 2015 Winter Meeting in San Diego, California.
A Life Member of AAPT, O’Kuma has served in numerous roles for AAPT, including the role of AAPT President.  He has served on thirteen AAPT committees, including the Two Year College Committee, Nominating Committee (chair in 2007), the Executive Officer Search Committee, the TPT Editor Search Committee (chair in 2000), AAPT Council (chair in 1999), and numerous review committees and area committees.

Most recently he completed a term as the chair of the Meetings Committee. The parameters for the committee were being refined and its future was not clear.  Tom led AAPT through the transition from meetings for a smaller organization to the recognition that the current size requires considerable coordination to manage the logistics of a campus meeting.  The success of the recent summer meetings in Philadelphia and Minneapolis and the success of the new format for the winter meeting has its origin in the work O’Kuma did with the Meetings Committee.

Texas Section has benefited from his leadership as well. O’Kuma has provided professional development workshops at essentially every one of twice-yearly meetings. He has served in all of the Section officer roles, including Section Representative to AAPT, and is currently organizing the Texas Section spring meeting, highlighting the contributions of under-represented members of the community.

He has been a driving force for enhancing the educational opportunities for students in K-12 and the two year colleges, presenting at the New Faculty Experience for Two Year College Faculty and serving on the steering committee for TYC21 Project, as Principal Investigator of the SPIN-UP/TYC Project.  As a PI of multiple grants, his focus has always been on the teaching aspect of physics and the research behind effective teaching strategies.  He has co-authored several books based on PER.  O’Kuma served as a rural PTRA site coordinator for nearly 10 years and worked side by side with the PTRAs leading the sessions. He has influenced and mentored thousands of teachers in Texas and across the United States.

O’Kuma received both his B.S. degree in physics and mathematics from Louisiana Tech University, Ruston, LA, and his M.S. in Physics (research field, statistical mechanics).  He did additional graduate work in physics and mathematics at the University of Florida and the University of Houston Clear Lake.

On being recognized with this award, O’Kuma said:
"I was stunned when I received word from the AAPT Awards Committee that I had been selected for the Melba Newell Phillips Medal.  I met Melba at one of my first AAPT national meetings and had the pleasure of talking with her several times while she still attended national meetings.  She was an amazing woman who excelled in her research, her dedication to physics teaching and the physics community.  I am honored and humbled to be selected for this honor."

About the Award
The Melba Newell Phillips Medal honors Phillips for her leadership and dedicated service to physics education. The first woman president of the AAPT and a founder of the Federation of American Scientists, Phillips’ research was in nuclear physics.  She served on the faculty of Brooklyn College and the University of Chicago and was a champion of physics education throughout her life. This Award is given only occasionally to subsequent AAPT leaders who display similar achievements and exceptional contributions. The first recipient of the Award was Melba Phillips herself (Emeritus, University of Chicago), in January 1982.
The previous award recipients include Lillian C. McDermott, Judy R. Franz, E. Leonard Jossem, Clifford Swartz, Albert A. Bartlett, Anthony P. French, John W. Layman, and Mary Beth Monroe.
The complete list of awardees can be found at http://www.aapt.org/Programs/awards/phillips.cfm

About AAPT
AAPT is an international organization for physics educators, physicists, and industrial scientists—with members worldwide. Dedicated to enhancing the understanding and appreciation of physics through teaching, AAPT provides awards, publications, and programs that encourage practical application of physics principles, support continuing professional development, and reward excellence in physics education. AAPT was founded in 1930 and is headquartered in the American Center for Physics in College Park, Maryland.
For more information: Contact Marilyn Gardner, Director of Communications, mgardner@aapt.org, (301)209-3306, (301)209-0845 (Fax), www.aapt.org.