Achievement in the Sciences – Reunion 2008

Bob Fenstermacher thought teaching physics at Drew would be a great first job.  Forty years later, his first job is still a source of joy.

Friends drew Bob from his home in Scranton, Pennsylvania to the College by alerting him to the chance for one-on-one education that he has since provided to generations of students.  He appreciated a school small enough to need the talents of all students, and was soon helping start student radio, and building and fixing sound systems and everything else he could find.  He especially enjoyed the teaching of John Ollom, Drew’s single physics professor at that time.

When Bob completed his Ph.D. in physics at Pennsylvania State University in 1968, just as Drew added a second full-time faculty position in physics, Ollom invited him back to The Forest.  The new Hall of Sciences—a wonderful building full of space and open to new ideas—opened as Bob began his teaching career.  Soon he developed a modern astronomy program, gained a National Science Foundation grant for new telescopes, and then built Drew’s first observatory in 1973.  He shared many standing-room-only special heavenly events in the observatory with the campus community.  He continues to direct the observatory, which now contains an NSF-funded research grade computer-controlled telescope.

During his sabbaticals, as NASA Faculty Fellow at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California and as NSF Faculty Fellow at Bell Telephone Laboratories in New Jersey, Bob gained new ideas to bring back to his students at Drew.  He has enjoyed developing all Drew’s physics laboratory courses and has also developed courses for non-science majors, including his popular “How Things Work” class and a seminar in science and society.  He has been advisor and mentor to the highly-acclaimed Drew Chapter of the Society of Physics Students throughout his teaching career.

Bob became a full professor in 1980, and holds the Robert F. Oxnam Professorship of Science and Society.  He has chaired the Physics Department almost continuously since 1975.  He worked to develop the New Jersey Governor’s School in the Sciences, a summer program at Drew for highly talented high school students, in the early 1980s.  He is the dual-degree engineering liaison with Columbia University, and has served on numerous University committees, but there is no doubt that his heart lies in working with his students.

Bob lives in Madison with his wife, Anne Jacobson C’75, a foundation program officer in New Jersey and the 2005 recipient of the Alumni/ae Volunteer Award.  His son, Rob, is an executive director of a non-profit foundation and the father of six-year-old Alex (the next family scientist), and his daughter, Sara, is preparing for graduate school in neuroscience. Bob gave a good report of Drew to his younger brother, Barry C’69, who followed him a few years later.