Name: Dr. Sally Hicks
BS: Where did you grow up?
SH: I grew up in southern Ohio, about 35 miles east of Cincinnati, on a tobacco and dairy farm — mainly dairy, but we also grew tobacco. I am one of five, the youngest, and I have three brothers and one sister. I am actually someone who loved farm life. It was a very rural community, and we had to work a lot as children … I think it built who I am today. I went to a teacher’s college; as an undergraduate I was a math major. Then I took a physics class, and I really became very interested in physics, so I double-majored. Then I went to the University of Kentucky as a graduate student, and that’s where my love of nuclear physics developed. And then I came here!
BS: Why the University of Dallas and not a more research-oriented university?
SH: I think it’s really nice that this conversation is coming right after the Clare Boothe Luce event we just hosted. The professor who spoke had become a full professor at Union College — a liberal arts school — and then she moved to University of Notre Dame so that she could be more research-oriented. We were talking about the difference. At UD, I do research, and I enjoy research, but I really enjoy teaching and interacting with students. At Notre Dame, she interacts with students, but here, I interact with students and I see them and teach them over and over again in different classes. I feel like I can truly impact their lives. She said how much she missed really feeling close to students and interacting with them on the level that we do here. I feel like I can get to know students and can help them along their path. I’ve been lucky; I’ve been funded by federal agencies to do my research for most of the time I’ve been here. I think I’m funded because I have so many students who are able to research with me. If they gave that same amount of money to someone at a research institution, they could get more nuclear physics done. But they fund us because we educate students. The physics is important, but if we don’t have that student pipeline where we’re training students in physics, then we won’t have the technical infrastructure that this country needs to stay ahead in the world.
BS: What’s the relationship like between the humanities departments and the physics department?
SH: Humanities professors have different opinions of science. Some love science, but they just chose to be a history professors or English professors. I wish students enjoyed science more, the humanities students. I encourage our junior and senior physics majors, if they have extra electives, to take upper level English or history or philosophy, because this is your opportunity to look at many different subjects. In all my years here, I’ve had maybe two humanities students take quantum physics. And I think, wow, that’s such a shame, because philosophy and quantum physics have such an overlap in certain areas. I think that’s my main disappointment at UD, that it’s not quite as liberal [in thought] as I thought it would be … Science is part of the liberal arts, and it’s very important to being a well-rounded citizen.
BS: As we’ve just passed the 15-year anniversary of 9/11, can you tell us about your experience of the tragedy while at UD?
SH: 9/11 I remember just so vividly. I was listening to NPR. As I drove in, they interrupted the program and said that a plane had just flown into one of the towers. I remember parking behind Gorman, and sitting and listening. At that time, on that particular program, they didn’t know what kind of plane it was. So I came in, it was very early in the morning. Mrs. Jodziewicz was here and we went into the back room and turned on the TV, a really old TV. A few students came back and joined us, and we were sitting watching as the second plane came in. It was such a weird feeling on campus that day. No one could believe it. With the first one, you thought, well, maybe an accident had happened. But when the second one came in, you knew it was a horrifically planned attack on the country. Everyone was stunned. We tried to carry on classes, but we couldn’t really, so we just went through the motions. There’s nothing else that’s happened in my life like that. It was eerie. The whole country — the whole world — was stunned.
Another really vivid memory is that it was one of those beautiful blue days. And they grounded planes for two days, maybe more. But it was just quiet. I live very close to the airport, and even [in] this area, always we have planes going over. But there were no planes, just quiet.