Never too late
Love of physics sparks return to college
KENNESAW, Ga. (May 7, 2018) — After working for more than 30 years, Tony Niebank hit the pause button in his career to return to college and complete his bachelor’s degree in physics. Next fall, he will start on a master’s in applied statistics.
Niebank had pursued a successful career in program and project management from one side of the country to the other for Delta Airlines, The Home Depot and a small software start-up called Nead Werx. He had always wanted to complete his education, but work and family demands stood in the way.
“Early on, it was just getting motivated to come back to school in the first place,” Niebank said. “I hadn’t taken a math course in nearly 25 years, and I was about to jump into physics as a field of study. Honestly, I had no idea if I would be successful or not.”
Fortunately, he found a welcoming environment at Kennesaw State.
“I have to say that all of the professors I had early on encouraged me to continue and provided help whenever I asked for it,” the 51-year-old explained. “As the courses got more challenging, working full time while pursuing a physics degree became untenable, and I had to choose whether or not to continue, so I chose to pause my career and pursue my degree full time.”
It was the spring semester of 2017, and the Smyrna resident not only threw himself into his studies, he also found time for lots of interesting extracurricular activities.
“I have endeavored to make the most of my experience here at KSU,” Niebank said. “I have had the opportunity to share the observation of a total solar eclipse and discuss its significance with experts in astrophysics.
“During the eclipse last summer, I joined several students and professor David Garofalo from the physics department, on a trip to Andrews, N.C., to observe the eclipse at a point of totality,” said Niebank. “We were able to take a couple of telescopes and capture some great pictures of the entire eclipse. The two and a half minutes of total eclipse is something I will never forget.”
A learning assistant in the College of Science and Mathematics, Niebank also found time to work with faculty and other students to establish a project to build a high-energy subatomic particle detector.
“I was able to present my research in high-energy particle physics at a statewide science competition, and won first place, much to my surprise,” he said.
Niebank’s research project, “Cosmic Ray Muon Rate Measurements at KSU,” investigated the physical characteristics of cosmic rays that constantly bombard earth and demonstrated how they create subatomic particles that move at nearly the speed of light.
“The number of these cosmic ray muons which pass through us is dependent on our altitude, because they decay rather quickly back into electrons,” he said. “I chose to research and confirm this altitude dependence and their decay characteristics.”
Science projects are a natural for Niebank, who enjoyed participating in the annual Physics Day event on the Marietta Campus.
“We invite elementary and middle school students to come and experience several physics demonstrations,” said Niebank. “The idea that I had an opportunity to spark the imagination of a few young kids and encourage them to investigate science was very rewarding.”
Niebank has shared his love of science and education with his son Ryan, who also is attending Kennesaw State and majoring in electrical engineering.
“I have encouraged him to pursue a field he has a passion for, but to also understand that he needs to earn a living in that field.”
– Robert S. Godlewski
Photos by David Caselli
A leader in innovative teaching and learning, Kennesaw State University offers undergraduate, graduate and doctoral degrees to its more than 41,000 students. With 11 colleges on two metro Atlanta campuses, Kennesaw State is a member of the University System of Georgia and the second-largest university in the state. The university’s vibrant campus culture, diverse population, strong global ties and entrepreneurial spirit draw students from throughout the region and from 126 countries across the globe. Kennesaw State is a Carnegie-designated doctoral research institution (R2), placing it among an elite group of only 6 percent of U.S. colleges and universities with an R1 or R2 status. For more information, visit kennesaw.edu.