FSU Physics Professor Susan Blessing wins university’s most visible award for service to students

From Florida State University’s Media Relations Office:

FLORIDA STATE PHYSICS PROFESSOR WITH A GIFT FOR MENTORING RECEIVES THE 2011 ROSS OGLESBY AWARD

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Young women with a passion for science and engineering usually know they’ve met a kindred spirit in Florida State University physics professor Susan Blessing.

High school students who meet the brilliant scientist with the beautiful smile and the contagious love for physics sometimes submit their college applications based on just one encounter.  Members of Florida State’s Women in Math, Science and Engineering Living Learning Community (WIMSE) — a group that Blessing directs — find their confidence and nurture new friendships with other young women in the sciences.

On Saturday, the Garnet and Gold Key student leadership honorary presented the 2011 Ross Oglesby Award to Blessing, who is the Nancy Marcus Professor of Physics and whose research has been carried out at Fermilab near Chicago. (She’s a member of the team whose experiments lead to the discovery of the top quark in 1995.)

“Researchers have known for years how important it is for young women in science and engineering to work with women mentors,” Paul Cottle, Florida State professor of physics, wrote in a nomination letter for Blessing.

“After meeting professor Blessing, many women students considering majors and careers in these fields are willing to take on these challenges,” Cottle added. “With the nation facing an economically crippling shortage of scientists and engineers, no mission on the FSU campus could be more important than giving our women students the opportunity to enter these fields.”

Garnet and Gold Key, the university’s oldest honorary, presents the award each year during Homecoming to a nominated member of the faculty or staff who has served students and the university with exemplary commitment and integrity for a decade or more. In keeping with tradition, the honorary keeps the identity of the winner a closely guarded secret until the award presentation.

Florida State’s Oglesby Award was established in honor of Ross Oglesby, a member of the leadership honorary, who served as dean of students and professor of government before he died in 1973.

Past winners have included Florida State University President Emeritus T.K. Wetherell and retired Provost and Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs Lawrence G. “Larry” Abele.

Blessing, who received her doctorate in experimental elementary particle physics in 1989 from Indiana University, joined the Florida State physics faculty in 1994. She is a venerable researcher and has hundreds of scientific publications to her name. Her current research involves searches for exotic elementary particles with names such as glueballs and leptoquarks.

And recently, Blessing expanded her already hectic schedule to make room for a prestigious appointment to the Committee on the Status of Women in Physics of the American Physical Society, which is the national professional society of physicists. The nine-member group of scientists is trying to find ways to boost the number of women in the profession.

Still, her most rewarding mission may be the most humble: convincing Florida’s most talented high school students that majoring in physics can lead to a fulfilling career and that Florida State’s world-renowned physics program is an amazing place to study.

“I first met Dr. Blessing before even coming to FSU at a Preview Day,” wrote second-year physics major Rebecca Hallock in a nomination letter to the Oglesby Award committee. “That meeting with her encouraged me to come to FSU, apply to WIMSE, and continue pursuing physics.”

Hallock told a story about how she needed help in her current “Physics Problem Solving” class taught by Blessing. One day after class, Hallock, who did not completely understand a question on a quiz, asked the professor for help.

Blessing was in a hurry to catch a flight, but she still invited Hallock to come to her office and patiently helped her work her way through the problem.

“That really meant a lot to me,” Hallock recalled in her heartfelt letter, “and it helped me to better understand the material.”

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