University of Texas
Austin Gleeson
(April 5, 1938-)

 

 

Austin Gleeson, Holloway Awards Dinner

 

Austin Michael Gleeson was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in April 5, 1938 to James Patrick (1902–1981) and Ellen Gleeson. He had an older brother, James Jr.. His father was a milk delivery driver.

Austin attended Lincoln High School in Philadelphia, where he was a member of the soccer team. He graduated in 1956 and despite being an excellent student, he had no plans to a attend college due to financial limitations. At this point, his math teacher, Karl S. Kalman (photo at right) stepped in and urged him to attend college. Mr Kalman arranged for a scholarship at Drexel University where he majored in Physics. Later, Austin established a $2,000 Scholarship given in memory of Mr. Karl Kalman. The scholarship description reads, "Mr. Kalman was a Lincoln Mathematics Department head and teacher from 1950 through 1964.  His pride in his field and his caring and compassionate approach to his teaching changed the course of many of his students' lives.  This scholarship is made possible by Mr. Austin Gleeson (Jan ‘56), a former student of Mr. Kalman’s, and currently a professor of physics at the University of Texas at Austin." In addition, Austin established in memory of his wife, Betsy, The Elizabeth Billman Gleeson Student Support Fund which provides a grant ($250 - $500) for various student projects (at Lincoln High School) throughout the school year.

 

In order to cover his expenses at Drexel, Gleeson enrolled in their Coop Program. In this program he worked at RCA Laboratories in Camden, New Jersey and also worked for the Burroughs Corporation as part of Burroughs contracts from the U.S. Air Force and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to build radar data processing equipment for use in SAGE (Semi-Automatic Ground Environment), a system designed to protect the continental United States from enemy air attack. At Drexel, Gleeson was co-captain of the university soccer team. In 1958, with a 12-0-0 record, the Drexel Dragons was awarded the National Championship by the Intercollegiate Soccer Football Association of America, then the governing body of men’s college soccer. He graduated in 1960 with a BS in physics. In 1992, Gleeson was honored as one of Drexel University's 100 most distinguished graduates. Gleeson was chosen from 60,000 alumni considered for the award.

In 1965, Gleeson received his PhD from the University of Pennsylvania. His supervisor was Professor Kalyana T. Mahanthappa and his thesis was entitled, "“Pion Nucleon Collisions and Pion Production Processes”.  Following completion of his PhD, Gleeson was appointed assistant professor at Syracuse University. It was there that he met his future colleague at Texas, George Sudarshan. In 1969, Gleeson was appointed to the UT physics faculty and the Center for Particle Fields. He was the chief administrator of the center for a number of years. In the early 1980s, Gleeson was Associate Dean of the College of Natural Sciences. He served as chair of the department from 1988 to 1992 and interim chair from 1995-1996.

At the Unversity of Texas, Gleeson held the Marin Harris Thornberry Centennial Professorship in Physics.

His honors include:  The Chad Oliver Award for Teaching Excellence, the President’s Associates Teaching Excellence Award, and the Amoco Outstanding Teaching Award, as well as a Professor of the Year award from the Council for the Advancement and Support of Education. He received the Jean Holloway Award for Excellence in Teaching in 2008. Gleeson also was very active in the Physics Circus which provided live demonstration of physics to countless UT students and school children in Austin area. In order to guarantee the continuation of this physics outreach, Austin, friends, former students, and colleagues joined together to establish the Austin M. Gleeson Endowed Excellence Fund for Physics Outreach.

Ever open to innovation, Gleeson was one of the first faculty on campus to try the "Keller" method of teaching. He took on the very large task of organizing a section of the physics engineering course dedicated to this method. Since the idea was that students did not move throught the material in the course until they had demonstrated competence through performance on a test, it was necessary to create many test and supplemental material. Graduate TAs also had to be specially trained. The students liked this style of teaching and it resulted in better comprehension, however it required more resources than the traditional course.

Regularly, Professor Gleeson taught a physics course for Plan II students. This course introduced both the scientist and nonscientist students to modern physics. The textbook for the course can be found here: Introduction to Modern Physics.

Gleeson served on many important University committees including chair of the UT Master Plan Committee, chair of the Patent Committee and UT representative on the Superconducting Super Collider project.

From Betsy Gleeson's obituary, "Austin married Elizabeth "Betsy" Billman. Betsy was born in Philadelphia, PA, April 27, 1939. She was the daughter of Burton and Elva Billman. Austin and Betsy have a daughter Linda (Cilek) and a son, David. Betsy graduated from Abraham Lincoln High School in Philadelphia in 1957. She then went to work as a transcription typist for Girard Bank. It was during her daily commutes that she met her future husband on a city bus. They married and moved to Syracuse, New York. In 1969, Betsy braved a cross-country move to Austin, Texas, with her husband and two young children. In Austin, she built a house and set about creating a home for her family. Throughout her life, she selflessly acted as the foundation for her family, providing the stability and harbor that allowed them to succeed in their pursuits. Ever eager for new challenges, Betsy pursued her desire to help children. She returned to her educational studies, earning her associate‘s degree from Austin Community College. Her great desire to experience the thrill of travel and her ability to plan exquisite trips took her across the United States, into Mexico, Europe, and the Caribbean. She enjoyed handling the management of her home, arranging travel for herself and her husband, and involvement of the social events of their lives. Betsy died on November 5, 2010, in Austin. She is survived by her devoted husband of 50 years, Austin M. Gleeson, her daughter, Linda Cilek, her son, David, her grandson, Cameron Cilek, her eldest sister, Carol McGuigan and her beloved dachshund Casey Blueberry. She was preceded in death by her father, Burton Billman, her mother, Elva Billman, and her younger sister, Jayne Turner. A dedicated, vibrant and beloved mother, wife, daughter and sister, she was a star in their firmament whose warm glow and wisdom will guide our lives forever. Interment was at Sunset Memorial Park, Feasterville, Bucks County, Pennsylvania. In lieu of flowers, donations in her memory were to be made to SafePlace in Austin, TX (www.safeplace.org). Her grave is adorned by a poem of Lord Byron,

"She Walks in Beauty":

She walks in beauty, like the night 
Of cloudless climes and starry skies; 
And all that’s best of dark and bright 
Meet in her aspect and her eyes; 
Thus mellowed to that tender light 
Which heaven to gaudy day denies. 

One shade the more, one ray the less, 
Had half impaired the nameless grace 
Which waves in every raven tress, 
Or softly lightens o’er her face; 
Where thoughts serenely sweet express, 
How pure, how dear their dwelling-place. 

And on that cheek, and o’er that brow, 
So soft, so calm, yet eloquent, 
The smiles that win, the tints that glow, 
But tell of days in goodness spent, 
A mind at peace with all below, 
A heart whose love is innocent!"

Gleeson philantropic contributions to the University of Texas were extensive. His philanthropy with the university began in 2010 shortly after his wife, Elizabeth, passed away. He wanted to do something in her name and knew there had always been a need for the Plan II Honors Program to fund professors who teach courses in the program. By taking distributions from his faculty retirement account, he funded $150,000 toward a professorship in Plan II, challenging Plan II alumni to join him. In two and a half years, the funds for the professorship had been committed. The Elizabeth B. Gleeson Excellence Endowment in Physics (has been upgraded to a professorship) will forever fund a physics professor to teach in Plan II. {However, recently, this endowment now funds three professors in physics with no connection to Plan II.)

"Blunt and funny, Gleeson says creating the fund was so painless. “I got to thinking, why should I save that money until I drop dead? Why don’t I give it now with the $100K a year out of my retirement?” He was so pleased with the response from Plan II alumni that he decided to make four additional gifts to seed four new professorships in the Plan II Honors Program, contingent on other donors matching his gift. He announced his intentions during his acceptance speech while becoming the first Natural Sciences professor to receive the College of Liberal Arts’ Pro Bene Meritis Award." (From article written by Avrel Seale).

The physics department development program owes much to Gleeson. He maintained contact with many in the business, government and academic community and was very successful in using these contacts to fund research projects, chairs, professorships, fellowships, scholarships, lectureships and items that were not fundable with state monies.

Gleeson retired in 2020.

Austin M. Gleeson Photo and Document Album

Austin M. Gleeson, Lincoln High School yearbook, The Knight, 1956.

Lincoln High School Soccer Team, 1956, Austin Gleeson, 4th from left, backrow.

 

Lincoln High School Soccer Seniors, 1956, Austin Gleeson, 3rd from left.

 

Austin Gleeson, UT Austin

 

Austin Gleeson, UT Austin

 

Austin Gleeson

Gleeson in Plan II Class

 

1959 Soccer Team, Drexel University, Austin Gleeson, 4th from right, co-captain.
Drexel Yearbook, Spartan.

Austin Gleeson, 1960 graduate, Drexel University

 

Austin Gleeson sandwiched between bed of nails. Andrew Yui wielding sledge hammer. 2018 (Photo courtesy of Jack Clifford.)

 

Jerry Hoffmann and Austin Gleeson, Lothar Frommhold and Len Kleinman in background. (Courtesy of Jack Cliffored.)

 

5/7/08  Carol Billman McGuigan, Betsy Gleeson's sister, Betsy and Austin Gleeson at the Alumni Center 

Mel Oakes, Pat Oakes, Jim Vick and Austin Gleeson, Jean Holloway Award Dinner 2009

 

 

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