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Consummate Teacher

Omar Acosta looks forward to Dr. Dick Patty’s class every week. Acosta especially enjoys how Patty uses funny examples and white board drawings to make his introductory physics class entertaining and engaging.

“I would recommend him to anyone,” Acosta says. What may surprise the sophomore from Benson, N.C., is that Patty retired from the physics faculty more than 15 years ago—when Acosta was 4 years old.

Life After Retirement

Patty has continued to teach part-time since retiring in 1996, along with serving as acting head of the Department of Marine, Earth and Atmospheric Sciences from 1999 to 2001.

While he enjoys the conceptual challenges of a senior-level quantum course, Patty also finds the introductory courses—like Acosta’s Engineering Physics I: Mechanics class—gratifying to teach. He avoids relying on lecture notes from previous years.

“The material may be old stuff for the professor, but we have to remember that it’s new stuff for the students,” Patty says. “By not having notes, I can rethink the class each time I teach it. That keeps it exciting for them and me.”

Students say Patty is thorough but easy to understand and that he makes class interesting by encouraging participation.

In addition to inside-out knowledge of the material, he’s known for classroom control. As one student put it, “He makes effective use of an evil eye to stare down offenders who start to chat in class.”

Long Road to Raleigh

Patty never planned to become a professor. After earning a graduate degree at Ohio State University, he served as a first lieutenant in the U.S. Army for a year and was appointed senior scientist for Ford Motor Company’s Aeronutronic Division in California. He thought a career in industrial research lay ahead. Then he got a call from his Ohio State adviser, Dudley Williams. Williams, who had become head of the Department of Physics at NC State, asked Patty to take a faculty position. It was an easy decision for Dick and his wife, Nell.

“We were living in southern California, but we liked the lush green of the east better,” Patty recalls.

Patty would go on to have an outstanding university career. He was repeatedly recognized for his skill in the classroom, winning three Outstanding Teaching Awards, an Alumni Award for Excellence in Teaching, an Alumni Distinguished Undergraduate Professorship and a UNC Board of Governors Teaching Award.

He served as head of physics from 1976 to 1995, a period of tremendous growth and success. The Richard R. Patty Conference Room in Riddick Hall is named in his honor. In 1995, Patty received the Alexander Quarles Holladay Medal for Excellence, NC State’s highest award for faculty achievement.

In addition to sharing his time and talents, Patty and his wife fund a scholarship for a physics major. He remains dedicated to teaching, his favorite part of the job.

“I care about doing a good job of teaching, and I will continually try to improve. I like the students and consider my time with them to be one of the high points of my day.”