David Park

Who is on the other end of your log?

If I were to return to Williams in a learning frame of mind, whom would I ask to be on my log?
For me it would be David Park. I would like to tell you about the impact he had on me, first at Williams and then beyond.

I signed up for Quantum Mechanics with Dr. Park in my junior year. He surprised us all by actually writing the textbook in the course of the class. His goal was to make the subject more understandable to the average student. Each class he would appear juggling freshly mimeographed copies of the latest chapter for each of us. (Remember that purple ink before Xerox) The class was so refreshing and interesting I signed up for an independent study with Dr. Park senior year.

We met in his garret office on the top floor of the Physics building. He told me he had some material he was very curious about, but hadn’t yet had the opportunity to explore. He asked if I would be willing to do so, but cautioned that it was unfortunately in the original German. He offered to help if I got stuck. I liked languages and had a year of German with Professor Silas, so I said sure.

Well, the semester went on and I, as usual, procrastinated until the end of the term when I dove into the material. I seemed to get it, and was also too embarrassed to go back to Dr. Park that late in the term. Time was short. Graduation looming. So I was only able to complete my draft in pencil, with the footnotes on the back side of each page of a legal pad. With my ‘hat in hand’ I took it to Dr. Park’s home on Hoxsey Street.

Just a few days before graduation he returned it with an A – , one of my best grades in four years. I couldn’t believe it. The work, by the way, was Schroedinger’s original text on wave theory written in 1929.

For me, this was a formative experience. It taught me to follow my curiosities and not count myself out from any experience.

I certainly wasn’t the sharpest knife in the drawer of the Physics department. My professors were a bit discouraged when I bypassed graduate school to go into business. I learned later that when Dr. Park heard this, he remarked to his colleagues ‘…isn’t it wonderful that Mike chose our discipline to improve his mind.’

Years later, I had the honor of relating this story to a group gathered to celebrate naming one of the new Physics Labs after David Park. What a teacher !!

50 years later, don’t ask me about Schroedinger, but my family and I have certainly followed our curiosities, thanks in part to David Park.

Mike Herlihy

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