Appointment of Dr. Beth Cunningham as New AAPT Executive Officer

19 JULY 2010

Beth CunninghamOn behalf of the AAPT Executive Board, I am pleased to announce that Dr. Beth Cunningham has accepted our offer to become the next Executive Officer of AAPT.  Dr. Cunningham will assume her duties in that office on 1 January 2011 but will start her work in the AAPT office in College Park on 1 October 2010, overlapping for three months with Dr. Warren Hein, who is retiring as AAPT’s Executive Officer on 31 December 2010.  This overlap will facilitate a period of orientation to AAPT and give Dr. Cunningham opportunity to become further acquainted with AAPT’s members and staff and activities before she officially assumes the position of Executive Officer.

Dr. Cunningham’s career has provided her with admirable preparation to serve as AAPT’s next Executive Officer and help us all achieve our mission “to enhance the understanding and appreciation of physics through teaching.”  Physics and AAPT are in her blood. (Her father was a physicist who, in fact, was quite active in AAPT.) She pursued her B.A., M.A.  and Ph.D. degrees, all with majors in physics, at Kent State University.  Her Ph.D. thesis focused on biological liquid crystals. After a two-year post-doctoral appointment at the Hormel Institute of the University of Minnesota, she taught physics for one year at Gettysburg College before moving to Bucknell University, where she taught physics for seventeen years, advanced through the academic ranks to full professor and, during the last six of those years, served as Associate Dean of the Faculty of the College of Arts and Sciences.  In 2006, she assumed her present position as Provost, Dean of the Faculty, and Professor of Physics at Illinois Wesleyan University.

Dr. Cunningham is a skilled teacher and researcher.  She has taught both introductory and advanced lecture and laboratory courses in physics, the latter particularly in condensed matter, thermodynamics, and statistical mechanics.  She has taught outreach courses for non-science majors and one-week continuing education courses for middle school and high school teachers.  While at Bucknell, she played a major role in stimulating the growth of opportunities for physics majors to engage in undergraduate research and was herself the faculty mentor for more than 20 undergraduate research students.  She has been Principal Investigator (PI) or Co-PI on several grants, including one in 2005 from the NSF for the acquisition of an NMR spectrometer, nine distributed from 1992 to 2003 for beam time on the Daresbury Laboratory Synchrotron Radiation Source (United Kingdom), four from the NSF to support Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) programs during sixteen consecutive summers from 1995 to 2010, and one from the Fulbright Scholar-in-Residence Program to bring a Middle Eastern scholar to Bucknell.  Currently, she is Co-PI on a grant from the Teagle Foundation titled “Structuring Faculty Work Explicitly Around Student Learning."  Much of her research has been at the interface between physics and biology.  Specifically, she has investigated the structure and function of phospholipids, the major component of cell membranes.  She has published over 25 papers, many with student co-authors, in refereed journals, served as reviewer for papers submitted to Physical Review E, Physical Review Letters, Biochimica et Biophysica Acta, Journal of Physical Chemistry, and Journal of Colloid and Interface Science, and participated on seven NSF review panels, chairing one.

Dr. Cunningham is also an experienced, effective, and creative administrator.  In her positions at Bucknell and Illinois Wesleyan, she has supervised Associate Deans and Associate Provosts, Department Chairs, Librarians, Registrars, Specialists in Information Technology, Program Directors, and Athletic Directors; overseen faculty mentoring and development,  hiring of new faculty members, and evaluation of faculty members for promotion and tenure; participated in and had responsibility for implementing large-scale curricular development; managed multimillion-dollar budgets;  and assisted faculty in applying for grants.  Beyond her responsibilities to her employers, she has had a long-term association with Project Kaleidoscope (PKAL), not only as a participant in one of their Leadership Institutes but also as a member of the PKAL Faculty for the 21st Century, as a presenter/facilitator for several PKAL summer workshops and Leadership Institutes, and as one of the planners of four NSF-supported regional conversations on the meaning of liberal education in the 21st century; she has since 2000 served as a councilor in the Physics and Astronomy Division of the Council on Undergraduate Research, among other tasks facilitating regional workshops; she served for three years on the APS Committee on Education, chairing it in the third of those years; she has participated as an outside reviewer for several college and university departments of physics; and she  is currently in the middle of a four-year term on the Adlai E. Stevenson Lecture Series Board of Directors.  With a variety of collaborators, she has in the last decade or so presented almost two dozen faculty development and administrative workshops.

As a teacher, scholar, and administrator, Dr. Cunningham is outstanding.  Her experiences have acquainted her not only with the challenges of the classroom but also with the challenges of administering large organizations and managing budgets in a variety of institutional contexts and economic climates.  She is well acquainted with and well known within the professional scientific community and with organizations like the American Physical Society (APS), PKAL, and the Council on Undergraduate Research that serve that community. She has worked collaboratively on a wide variety of projects and programs.  She has been uncommonly successful in these varied endeavors. She is enthusiastic and energetic, and she communicates a passion for physics, for AAPT, and for working with AAPT to help us all advance our mission.

To quote from Dr. Cunningham’s letter of application, “All of [my] positions have reinforced my desire to be instrumental in leading and providing strategic direction in an organization devoted to improving student learning and developing physics educators. I also believe now is the perfect time for me to use my experiences to provide AAPT with leadership as it continues to focus on improving physics education. I welcome the opportunity to be in a position that goes back to my roots as a scientist and allows me to be more connected with fellow physicists.“

AAPT is fortunate that Dr. Cunningham has agreed to become our next Executive Officer.  I believe we can look forward to exciting times as together we and she strive to confront our challenges, to enhance our current strengths, and to move forward to an even more effective future.

As a postscript, I wish to commend and thank the Search Committee members—Lila Adair (chair), Thomas O’Kuma, Mary Mogge, Steve Iona, and Gordon Ramsey—for their diligent, careful, thoughtful, and thorough conduct of the process that has led to the hiring of Dr. Cunningham.

David M. Cook
2010 AAPT President