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Mel Oakes Endowed Undergraduate Lecture Series

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The Mel Oakes Endowed Undergraduate Lecture Series was established by the Board of Regents of The University of Texas System in 2004, for the benefit of the College of Natural Sciences. Gift funds were provided by friends, colleagues, and The Kodosky Foundation. This endowment honors Melvin E.L. Oakes, Ph.D. Dr. Oakes began his physics journey in 1958 as a junior at Louisiana State University. Physics classes were a new experience, but one he quickly fell in love with. After graduating from LSU, he received a Nuclear Sciences Fellowship and enrolled in the graduate program at Florida State University, which had a tandem Van de Graaff accelerator for nuclear physics research.

After two years of studying nuclear physics, he decided to change course and, in 1962, entered a plasma physics summer institute.

In 1964 Dr. Oakes joined the Department of Physics at The University of Texas at Austin as a postdoctoral researcher. Two years later, he accepted a position as assistant professor. Because of his hard work and dedication to the department, he was asked to be an undergraduate advisor, and he remained deeply involved in the undergraduate program for the rest of his teaching career.

“This involvement brought me much satisfaction and pleasure. The opportunity to assist in the development of productive scientists was an honor,” said Dr. Oakes.

Dr. Oakes served on a number of university and college committees and was recognized for his teaching, culminating in his election as a charter member of the University’s Academy of Distinguished Teachers.

Many colleagues and former students have remarked on Dr. Oakes’ lasting impact in the department, in the field, and on individual lives. For example:

Cécile DeWitt-Morette, Ph.D. thanked him, saying: “Mel has been an all-important person for the department. Institutions need structures, but structures need people to make them human. Mel has been such a person.” Barry Moore, Ph.D. recalls being a student of Dr. Oakes and someone who worked for him from 1967 to 1972. “I benefited greatly by the example he set for me and for all of his students,” he says.

Crockett Grabbe, Ph.D. remembers dropping by The Robert Lee Moore building to see him: “Mel was great to visit in his corner office of RLM. Kudos to Mel for all he has done for this department.”

After 40 years on the Forty Acres, Dr. Oakes retired in 2004. He’s since created a website dedicated to the long and distinguished history of the UT Physics Department.

Funds distributed from the endowment will be used to support a lecture series in physics to help undergraduate students discuss issues with lecturers of the highest caliber.

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