President David M. Cook Passes the Gavel

David M. Cook

David M. Cook
Wednesday, 12 January 2011, AAPT 2011 Winter Meeting
Hyatt Regency Jacksonville Waterfront Hotel

Good afternoon and welcome to this brief session. Towards the end of each winter meeting of AAPT, it has become traditional for the outgoing president to make a few remarks about the state of AAPT and then formally to transfer the presidency to his or her successor.

I will begin by commenting on half a dozen accomplishments of the past year. First, and most significant of all, we have hired a new executive officer to succeed Warren Hein. The search began during the 2009 presidency of Alex Dickison and came to its conclusion in April 2010 when the Board voted to extend an offer to Dr. Beth Cunningham. Her background and qualifications are summarized in the OnSite Guide for this meeting (and can also be accessed at To our delight, Beth accepted that offer. She has been working in the AAPT office as Executive Officer Designate since 1 October 2010 and officially became AAPT's Executive Officer on 1 January 2011. You have had a chance to get acquainted with Beth during this winter meeting, and I am confident you share the enthusiasm with which the Board looks forward to her leadership as AAPT moves forward into 2011 and beyond.

Second, in July 2010, the Board adopted a strategic plan, two versions of which—one with only goals and objectives and the other adding numerous possible strategies—are available with public access on the AAPT website from links at the URL This plan has been evolving for several years, starting with an Executive Board Retreat in June of 2006. The process continued through several subsequent large and small efforts, all of which are listed in the plan's introduction, and it culminated with a mini-retreat of Area Chairs and Section Representatives at the Washington meeting in January of 2010. Titled the AAPT Strategic Plan 2010—2013, this plan will provide guidance for AAPT over the next few years. At the same time, we recognize that such plans need to be periodically reviewed and probably adjusted. I expect that, at the Board meeting later today, we will convert the Committee on Governance Structure, which as a temporary committee has shepherded the creation of this strategic plan in the most recent few years, into a permanent AAPT Advisory Committee. Among the responsibilities of this new Advisory Committee will be the periodic review and updating of the AAPT Strategic Plan. As in the past, this Committee will almost certainly seek input from a broad AAPT constituency each time it addresses that charge.

Third, in its meeting this past Saturday, the Board reached another milestone when it adopted an updated AAPT Executive Board Handbook. This manual brings together in one place all information, guidelines, and policies that impact the activities of the AAPT Board and the AAPT Area and Advisory Committees. The document includes:

  • the AAPT Constitution and By-Laws, which were last revised in 2000,
  • an update of the most recent previous handbook to reflect actions recorded in the minutes of Board meetings and changes in practices since that previous handbook was adopted in—would you believe—1994,
  • a compilation of adopted AAPT Public Policy Statements,
  • several appendices containing supplementary information, and
  • a section containing a number of historically significant documents and policies.

Included in Saturday's Board action is a provision that charges the AAPT Secretary to update this handbook annually, thus guaranteeing that the formally adopted handbook will never again languish for 16 years without attention. The drafting and redrafting of this document has been underway for several years by two successive ad hoc Governance Review Committees, both lovingly and extremely competently chaired by Phillips Medal Recipient and past AAPT secretary Mary Beth Monroe. I am confident that this 150-page document (and its annual updates) will be immensely valuable in educating new Board members and in reminding all Board members of their responsibilities. I am also confident that Board members will regularly bless Mary Beth and the members of her Governance Review Committee for their tireless efforts to research past documents and all Board minutes, meticulously collecting all this information together in one place and alerting the Board to a number of inconsistencies and gaps that have now been addressed.

Fourth, I want all of you to be aware that, during the past couple of years, current and recent AAPT Program Chairs Jill Marshall, David Sokoloff, and I have been working with Tiffany Hayes, Cerena Cantrell, Marilyn Gardner, Terrence Hunt, and Chad Phillips in the AAPT office to rethink the procedures for gathering information about events planned for national meetings by our Area Committees. The process has involved a significant redesign both of the underlying data base and of the several on-line forms used in the process. In particular, information once entered at one step in the process now propagates without re-entry to subsequent steps. Further, the means of authorizing co-sponsored events has been revised. Each of these changes eliminates a major opportunity for inconsistent and confusing items to creep into the submitted information. At the Area Chairs' Orientation meeting this past weekend, the revised set of on-line forms was demonstrated. These forms will be used in the planning of the winter meeting in 2012. We are confident that these new forms will make the process much less burdensome for Program Chairs, for staff in the AAPT office, and for Area Chairs.

Fifth, in the last year, the AAPT Awards Committee has looked closely at the descriptions of our several awards and, at the recommendation of that Committee, the Board has adopted the slightly revised descriptions that now appear on the AAPT website. Further, thanks to substantial efforts of our now retired Executive Officer, Warren Hein, the excellence in teaching awards are now permanently endowed and will no longer be underwritten by funds from the AAPT operating budget.

Sixth, I want to mention that, increasingly, AAPT is providing support for appropriate activities funded by governmental and other agencies, frequently in the form of financial management. In some cases, the Executive Officer has the authority to decide whether AAPT should be involved in a particular proposal; in other cases proposals must be reviewed by a Board-Advisory Committee named the Review Board, which, operating under a recently revised charge, makes a recommendation to the Executive Board for a final decision about AAPT involvement. Currently there are eight active grants and eight submitted proposals awaiting funding. In addition, three proposals are in preparation for submission in the very near future. In particular, AAPT generally receives indirect-cost allocations to underwrite the contributions of our office staff to the management of these activities. Thus, beyond enhancing the AAPT presence in a number of valuable contexts, AAPT involvement provides some income to support the home office.
You are all aware of many more ways in which AAPT is involved in its efforts to live up to its mission "to enhance the understanding and appreciation of physics through teaching'. You can find more about such activities as eMentoring, the Physics Olympiad, involvement with NSTA conventions and outreach to high school teachers, SPIN-UP, New Faculty Workshops, the Science and Engineering Festival last fall on the Washington Mall, and much more by visiting the AAPT website at

Last year, in his report at the Washington meeting, then President Alex Dickison indicated some of the financial challenges that AAPT was confronting. AAPT has run a deficit for several of the most recent past years and 2010 was no exception. These financial woes reflect those afflicting many other institutions and are not going away quickly. While the situation is brighter now than it was a year ago, it is still not in absolute terms really bright. Be assured that the Board and our dedicated employees in the home office are addressing the situation responsibly and effectively. The adopted 2011 budget is an austerity budget, but it does preserve the essential programs and services that define AAPT.

I want now to express thanks to a number of individuals who have served AAPT well during the past year, many of whom have served AAPT in past years as well.

  • Warren Hein has provided much stability and good sense in the past couple of years especially as the challenges have occasionally seemed daunting. I wish for him a satisfying and relaxing retirement as he moves into the role of senior statesman and valued consultant to AAPT.
  • The dedicated staffers in the AAPT home office regularly go the second mile and sometimes even the third mile to make sure that AAPT programs are the best that they can be. I suspect that a very large fraction of our members have no idea how much these staffers do on behalf of AAPT. I urge you to take every opportunity you have to express your thanks.
  • AAPT would be much less than it is without numerous dedicated volunteers. I can't mention them all, but I do want particularly 
    • To thank Marina Milner-Bolotin for her service as Vice-chair of Section Representatives.
    • To thank High School Member-At-Large Elizabeth Chesick, outgoing Chair of the Section Representatives Mary Mogge, and Past President Alex Dickison, who rotate off the Board at the end of this meeting. At the Council meeting on Monday evening, I presented Liz and Mary with certificates of appreciation in recognition of their now completed service on the Board. I now ask Alex Dickison to come forward to receive his certificate of appreciation.
    • To thank all of you for your involvement with AAPT, whether you be a Section Representative, an Area Chair, a member of one or another AAPT Committee, a presider at a session, a presenter of a workshop, an invited speaker, a contributor of a talk or poster, or an attendee of and participant in this meeting.
And I want to welcome a few individuals now joining the Board, specifically: 
  • Newly elected High School Member-At-Large Diane Riendeau, newly elected AAPT Vice-President Gay Stewart, and newly elected Vice-Chair of Section Representatives Greg Puskar.
  • AAPT Secretary Steve Iona, who has already been on the Board for four years. Steve was elected this past fall for a third—and constitutionally mandated final—two-year term as AAPT secretary.
  • New Chair of Section Representatives Marina Milner-Bolotin, who has already served two years on the Board as Vice-Chair of the Section Representatives.
  • New AAPT Executive Officer Beth Cunningham. I am confident that we all stand ready to work with her as together we craft the future of AAPT.

Now I have two requests: First, please vote in our national elections. I am quite surprised that, year after year, only about 1500 of our 9000-10000 members bother to vote. Most of us are appalled at the small fraction of the US electorate that typically turns out to vote, even sometimes in presidential elections. AAPT's record is far worse than the record of the American citizens in the USA’s national elections. I really hope that the AAPT election of 2010 will be the last election characterized by such a dismal turn out.

Second, please become involved in AAPT, especially in our Area Committees. We depend on the members of our Area Committees to advise the Board on matters related to their areas of focus and for planning events to be mounted at national meetings. In the course of conversations at the recent joint meeting of the Wisconsin and Minnesota AAPT Sections, I was surprised to learn that many of our members are not fully aware that involvement in Area Committees provides a valuable way to contribute to AAPT, that "friends' of the Committees are welcome at Committee meetings, that Area Committees provide the starting point for those who wish to mount sessions or workshops at a national meeting, and that the planning for a given meeting begins a full year ahead of the meeting.

At this late time in this meeting, I realize that I am probably preaching mostly to the choir—so please help pass these two requests on to all those you know.

Thanks for allowing me to serve as your President during 2010. It has been a challenging and time-consuming but also rewarding and very pleasant experience. AAPT is blessed with a very large number of very committed individuals, and it is a joy to work with them for the future of our organization.

Now, I ask incoming AAPT President David Sokoloff to come forward.

With this gavel, I pass on to you the mantle of the AAPT President with the confidence that AAPT will continue to grow and the probably unrealistic hope that all the financial challenges will evaporate during your time in this office. Congratulations.