Professor J.R. Pratt Physics Wing to be dedicated on Friday at SWOSU
A dedication ceremony of the Professor J.R. Pratt Physics Wing and the unveiling of a plaque honoring the impact Professor Pratt had on his students will be held this Friday, October 25, as part of Southwestern Oklahoma State University Homecoming activities on the Weatherford campus.
The ceremony will be held at 3 p.m. in Room 116 of the Chemistry Pharmacy Physics Building on the SWOSU campus. A reception will follow the program.
Several college professors always hope that they can encourage their students to reach higher, but one professor in particular in the SWOSU Physics Department encouraged his students to go for the moon.
Physics Professor J.R. Pratt, who served as chair of the Southwestern State College Department of Physics from 1928 until 1964, was a WWI veteran and a tough, but fair instructor. Wearing a navy blue suit and tie every day to class, Professor Pratt instructed his students to “pay close attention and never forget the details of a situation.” He was a man of observation and meticulousness, important characteristics that would be passed on into the work ethic of his students.
During his time at the college, Professor Pratt witnessed, along with the entire country, President Dwight D. Eisenhower sign an act on July 29, 1958, that created the nation’s space agency, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).
After several sites were nominated for a new location of a NASA call center to establish ground communication with astronauts, an announcement was made on September 19, 1961 that Houston (TX) would be the new home of the NASA Mission Control Center.
Back in Oklahoma and as the space race continued, Professor Pratt saw a golden opportunity that would not only provide some of his graduating students a job but would ultimately be placing the right people in the right place at the right time.
That opportunity was an ad in a local newspaper announcing job openings for the new NASA Mission Control Center in Houston. Sharing this information with his students, Pratt encouraged them to pursue the chance to put their skills to work. Following their instructor’s advice, over 20 graduates left Weatherford and went to work for NASA and Mission Control.
Some of these graduates became essential key personnel in helping save missions such as Apollo 12 and Apollo 13. John Aaron became known as the “steely-eyed missile man” after playing an important role, alongside Tommy Weichel, in saving Apollo 13. Others, such as Ron Toelle, were part of a design team who developed the Saturn 5 Rocket, Skylab and the Space Shuttle.
Today, Oklahoma has a strong presence in the nation’s space history by having an Oklahoman in every phase of the space exploration missions, but the great state also has a presence in Mission Control thanks to Professor Pratt.
To his students, now distinguished alumni, Professor Pratt was not only a teacher and advisor, but a friend and mentor who wanted his students to work hard both in and out of the classroom.
Today, J.R. Pratt’s legacy of encouragement and helping students obtain an education is still in effect through his scholarship, the J.R. Pratt Physics Scholarship, established by alumni, faculty and faculty emeriti in his honor.
Recently, the SWOSU Foundation announced a fundraising campaign entitled “LAUNCH!” to encourage gifts to be made in honor of Professor Pratt and other current scholarship funds for the SWOSU Physics Department.