Scholarships honor a longtime teacher


A teaching assistant lines up a 25-inch telescope during an astronomy open house hosted by the Department of Physics and Astronomy. The Dr. Donald Summers Undergraduate Scholarship Endowment and the Dr. Donald Summers Graduate Student Scholarship Endowment will enable Ole Miss students to continue their work in the department. Photo by Robert Jordan/Ole Miss Digital Imaging Services

OXFORD, Mississippi — The late Donald Summers enjoyed studying the universe and spent his career as a professor at the University of Mississippi teaching astronomy and conducting research in physics. A new gift in his name will allow students to reach for the stars.

The $200,000 gift from his brother, Robert Summers, of Palo Alto, California, creates the Dr. Donald Summers Undergraduate Scholarship Endowment and the Dr. Donald Summers Graduate Scholarship Endowment. Summers died on March 3, 2021.

“We are extremely grateful for this generous donation which will provide valuable support to physics and astronomy students, enabling them to pursue their dreams,” said Lee Cohen, dean of the College of Liberal Arts. “Dr. Summers was a dedicated teacher and productive researcher who made a difference and enhanced the academic reputation of our university.

“I know of no better way to honor his life’s passion than to fund scholarships in his name.”

When Summers was an undergrad, he knew he wanted to pursue a career in higher education. But he did not want his work to be limited to conducting research in physics and astronomy; his desire was also to teach.

“These scholarships will greatly help us in our efforts to recruit strong students,” said Luca Bombelli, chair of the Department of Physics and Astronomy. “These funds are in line with Dr. Summers’ commitment to higher education, as he has helped doctoral students earn degrees and pursue successful careers. We hope to extend his dedication with these two new endowments.

Summers began her philanthropic support of Ole Miss students years ago. His gift of $175,000 created an endowment to help graduate students pursue studies in experimental particle physics and he later increased the endowment with a gift of $87,000.

He named the fund after James J. Reidy, former president and professor emeritus of physics and astronomy, whom he credits with bringing the university to the attention of the international scientific community through the research in high energy physics.

The late Donald Summers dedicated his professional life to teaching and research. Photo by Robert Jordan/Ole Miss Digital Imaging Services

“I saw the opportunity to help with what I see as a real need of our graduate students, while honoring Dr. Reidy, who started particle physics research here,” Summers said, speaking from the 2013 donation. “I think we need to provide more support to our graduate students, so that they don’t have to work full time while pursuing important research.

“Funding higher education is much more difficult these days, and at the same time, science teachers are scarce in many parts of the country. I saw this donation as a way to make a real contribution to meeting those needs.

Summers also established the Dr. Lee N. Bolen Jr. Scholarship Endowment in 2015 with donations of nearly $50,000 to provide scholarship for undergraduate or graduate students in physics and to honor Bolen, another professor of physics.

Summers was recruited by Ole Miss in 1989 and attained the rank of full professor in 2002. His research interests focused on studying the fundamental nature of matter. The professor has collaborated on high-energy physics experiments at Fermilab in Illinois and at CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research headquartered in Switzerland.

Summers worked on the discovery of heavy particles W+, W- and Z0, which are involved in all weak interactions, and this discovery at CERN eventually received the Nobel Prize. With the Mississippi experiment at Fermilab, Summers has accumulated the world’s largest sample of heavy charmed quarks, a type of elementary particle and a fundamental constituent of matter.

“Dr. Summers was a longtime member of our High Energy Physics research group and was very successful in helping the university gain exposure and external funding for our research,” Bombelli said.

Summers, Reidy, and other faculty members of UM’s High Energy Physics Research Group have built a reputation for their work and also for advancing the understanding of this research. All were members of QuarkNet, a program involving some 60 universities and laboratories across the country.

The program brings together high school students, physics teachers and particle physicists to further their education in physics. Teachers and students work with real data from one or more labs in the organization and learn to interpret the data.

Other activities include making components for large detectors at Stanford or CERN and building a portable cosmic ray detector that can be used in the classroom.

Summers attended St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in Oxford and was a generous donor to its many social programs.

To donate to the Dr. Donald Summers Undergraduate Scholarship Endowment or the Dr. Donald Summers Graduate Student Scholarship Endowment, click on the endowment names or send a check, with the fund name given in note line, to The University of Mississippi Foundation, 406 University Avenue, Oxford, MS 38655.

For more information about supporting the Department of Physics and Astronomy, contact Caroline Hourin, Development Associate at the College of Liberal Arts, at [email protected] or 662-915-6385.


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