Halson V. Eagleson


Honorary Degree (1985)
Doctor of Science
Location: Bloomington
Presenter: John W. Ryan


In a career that spans nearly six decades, Halson V. Eagleson has devoted his life to the teaching of physics and to the expansion of the expectations and opportunities of thousands of his students. His qualities of mind and the wealth of his interests offer to those who have studied with him the challenge of new possibilities that is the greatest gift of teaching.

Dr. Eagleson was born in Bloomington, Indiana, and attended Bloomington schools, where his interests in both physics and music first took root. He came from a family for whom an academic education was a vital part of life, and upon graduation from high school he enrolled at Indiana University. He received the A.B. in 1926, the A.M. in 1931, and the Ph.D. in 1939. During most of these years he played in dance and string bands to finance his education. Halson Eagleson's university career set the pattern of commitment to excellence with which he was later to inspire his students. He was the first black person at Indiana University to earn an "I" letter in band, the first to be elected to Sigma Xi, the honorary science society, and the first to be awarded a doctorate in physics.

While still completing his doctorate, Dr. Eagleson joined the faculty of Morehouse College in 1927 as an instructor in mathematics and physics, and also directed the college band. In 1940 he was named professor of physics and head of the Department of Physics on a joint appointment to Morehouse and Clark Colleges, and in 1947 became professor of physics at Howard University. During his twenty-four years of service at Howard University, including three years as chairman of the Department of Physics, Halson Eagleson helped build the department and its facilities to their present excellence and educated generations of young black scientists. He devoted himself to creating opportunities for his students and encouraged them to use their talents and education, as he used his, to open new areas of achievement for black Americans. Many of his former students, now on university faculties across the country, carry on his work.

Dr. Eagleson used his summers to offer his talent and inspiration to still wider audiences. For many years he served as professor, assistant director, or staff member at National Science Foundation summer institutes in Georgia, Alabama, Louisiana, Texas, Maryland, North Carolina, and South Carolina. Throughout his career he was invited to numerous colleges and universities as guest lecturer and visiting professor. Halson Eagleson's reputation as a teacher of physics has brought requests for his services from many national organizations. Among other activities, he has been a member of the selection panel of the Ford Future Scientists of America Awards Program, a critic for the Educational Testing Service physics tests and a contributor to the advanced engineering section of the Graduate Record Examination, a councilor of the Society of Physics Students, and, by appointment of the British Embassy, an examiner of physics applicants to the University of London, England. He holds membership in numerous national and regional professional organizations, and is listed in American Men and Women of Science and Who's Who in America. An expert in acoustics, Dr. Eagleson is the author of scientific publications on the acoustics of auditoriums and the behavior of sound. He has served as a consultant on noise pollution for the Environmental Protection Agency, and was a member of an advisory group that evaluated educational scientific instruments developed by Bell Telephone Laboratories, and has trained a large proportion of the radiological monitors for the District of Columbia region.

He has received many honors for his work as a scientist and educator, including the first National Physics Fellow's Award and the Distinguished Service Citation of the American Association of Physics Teachers, and was twice elected a General Education Board Fellow. A person of varied interests, Dr. Eagleson plays the piano, saxophone, clarinet, and violin, and speaks fluent Spanish, French, and German. These talents are a part of the sense of richness of opportunity that he brings to his teaching.

In a career dedicated to challenging the minds of the young, changing what they expect of themselves and opening new intellectual opportunities, Halson Eagleson reflects the highest humanitarian values of American education. Now at the University of the District of Columbia, he continues to teach and advise graduate students in physics.