A Small Gesture That Makes a Big Difference
The inside of an anechoic chamber, by design, prevents the reflection of sound. In the basement of Sequoia Hall, stowed behind vault-like doors, it is where Professor Emeritus Donald Hall spent more than 30 years teaching physics students. Even though he retired in 2006, he delights at explaining how it works...and some of the gentle pranks he played on his students.
But as if to contradict the room's silence, Hall and his wife Carol Maxwell have created their own resounding impact on students. Twenty years ago, they created and awarded the James Clerk Maxwell Physics Achievement Awards—named not for Carol's family, but for one of the most influential physicists along with Newton and Einstein. The award provides physics students amounts from $100 to more than $500 each semester for books or other needs.
Hall and Maxwell identified a creative approach to making the donation.
"From the beginning, we recognized a joint advantage in the form of stock as a gift," Hall explains. Annually, they donate appreciated stocks, upon which they otherwise would pay capital gains. The University Foundation at Sacramento State, as a not-for-profit organization, can accept the gift tax exempt.
The award is not dependent on need, and physics students with a B or above in any individual course required for the major may qualify for the funds. Students can also receive the award multiple times, and Hall and Maxwell recall several students who did.
"Even though it's a modest amount, it's still a useful pat on the back for students in the major," Hall explains.
"Receiving awards is always nice, but the environment fostered by such a charitable department is really what makes Physics at Sacramento State stand out," says Eliza Morris, Ph.D. (B.S., physics, 2005), who believes the nature of the department as a whole has helped her value helping others. "As students, we felt as though we were part of a community."
Hall believes that even those with modest resources can still help students.
"There's a feel-good component to giving an award like this," says Hall. "I don't think it has to be a big splash...something small can be something good too."