FROSTBURG — Jason Speights, director of Frostburg State University’s Multimedia Learning Center and Planetarium and assistant professor of physics, has been awarded the Regents’ Faculty Award for Excellence in Mentoring, the highest honor that the University of Maryland Board of Regents bestows to recognize exemplary faculty achievement. He was honored at the April 20 meeting of the board.
“All of my greatest successes trace back to great mentors in my life, so it’s enjoyable to give back those experiences,” Speights said.
Speights’ honor marks the ninth time since 2007 that the regents honored an FSU faculty member. The award takes into account the impact a faculty member had on students during the previous three years.
“Dr. Speights takes pride in his hands-on interactions with students that result in the application of student learning to real-life projects,” said FSU President Ronald Nowaczyk. “Some of these are clearly research-focused. Others have focused on developing students as mentors or training students to use and instruct others in the use of our campus observatory.”
Speights has “shown exceptional proclivity for mentoring, which has allowed numerous students to do amazing things they would not have been able to do on their own,” said Eric Moore, chair of the department of physics and engineering and an associate professor.
Speights joined FSU in 2012 and helped with the transition of the planetarium from its longtime home at Tawes Hall to the newly constructed Catherine R. Gira Center for Communications and Information Technology, which opened in 2014. It would not be uncommon to see Speights spend late nights helping students look for stars and test equipment. He also provides the students with a room furnished with a computer, white board and coffee maker, allowing them to work together on projects and have easy access to him for questions and advice.
In 2015, as associate director of the MLC, Speights guided students to help assemble and program components and new software for the rooftop observatory to capture deep space images. This allowed students to develop skills for research as well as prepare public planetarium shows. In 2016, Speights became director of the MLC and Planetarium following the retirement of Robert Doyle. Speights also advises the Physics and Engineering Club.
Speights has mentored nearly 40 students in the last three years in a variety of roles and disciplines, with several students recognized for national achievements and acceptance to graduate and doctoral programs.
Jacob Lichtenberg graduated with dual degrees in physics and materials engineering. Lichtenberg spent time as Speights’ teaching assistant and research assistant, presenting a poster on the rotational speed of a disk-shaped galaxy’s spiral arms at a meeting of the American Astronomical Society.
“His mentoring style created an unrestrained learning environment, in the sense that he encouraged students to thoroughly evaluate all solutions to a problem,” said Lichtenberg, now an associate mechanical engineer for Orbital ATK. “Coupling this with his knowledge, the impact on me is immeasurable.”