Physics students receive family scholarship


Physic students Deborah Hamm and Angel Garlant were hand-picked by faculty to receive the Willis Family Scholarship in Physics because of their outstanding academics and dedication to the field. The donor, Jeff Willis, ’72 BA, established this scholarship to honor his parents Dr. William Willis, who joined NAU Physics faculty in 1967 serving as chair for 15 years, and Jean, ’72 MED, a dedicated middle school teacher for over 20 years in the Flagstaff community.

Faculty provide career confidence

Inspired by NAU Physics faculty, Deborah Hamm, ’15 BS, left a rock music career to earn her second bachelor’s degree and study physics. She believes the energy she dedicated to music is better directed to science. However, financial aid can be difficult to obtain for returning students, and the Willis Family Scholarship provided Deborah with financial security and career confidence. 

“Having professors who welcome me into their research groups boosts my confidence as a scientist,” Deborah says.  In fact, Dr. David Trilling from Physics and Astronomy recruited Deborah for a project using data from ground-based telescopes to search for objects in the outer solar system. This work allowed her to develop computational and public presentation skills. Additionally, Deborah says, “This scholarship relieves worrisome loan debt.”

Oddly enough, Angel Garlant, ’14 BS, also left his music interests behind when he found studying physics and optics more interesting. “Researching light and its use in technology, astronomy, and medicine is more exciting than playing musical instruments,” Angel says. But finances were a worry, and he didn’t want to land in a dead-end job to cover costs.  Receiving the Willis Family Scholarship in Physics, and having the opportunity to work as an NAU teaching assistant and a research assistant at USGS, has made all the difference.

“This scholarship makes it possible to stay focused on physics and optics,” Angel says. “My professors and my work make it easy to stay dedicated to science.”

Jeff Wills, ironically enough, also has a past in music; in fact, he played in a rock band at NAU. But he, too, left music behind and now practices law in Tucson. Like Deborah and Angel, Jeff attributes his success to the faculty guidance he received at NAU.

“My professors were a window to a larger world,” Jeff says. “Flagstaff was a comfortable place to receive this greater world vision, but I was challenged to go out and make my life meaningful.”

Jeff did just that, and now as the founder of the endowed Willis Family Scholarship in Physics, he can help other NAU students while honoring his mother and father.

Building a culture of contribution

Jeff is enthusiastic about The Campaign for NAU. “I feel confident about this campaign. It is positive and critical, and as we must create a culture of philanthropy; I am glad to do my part.”

For students like Angel and Deborah, successful careers are realities because of support provided through The Campaign for NAU and from alums like Jeff Willis.

“This scholarship relieves stressful loan debt, and having professors who welcomed me into their research groups and then chose me for this award boosts my confidence as a scientist.” – Deborah Hamm