Professor C. S. Sherwood is Head of the Department of Geophysical Sciences at Old Dominion University.
Q: Today I am pleased to be speaking with Professor CS Sherwood of the Department of Geophysical Sciences at Old Dominion. Professor Sherwood, let’s start by having you make some comments about your background. I know you’re from Portsmouth and you might tell us something about your family background and your education and what vocational interests you had when you were in school.
Sherwood: I have always been interested in academic matters. Of course, coming from a navy town at one time when I was in grammar school, even in high school, I entertained the idea of going into the Navy, attending the Naval Academy. But, due to other interests that I had, I shifted away from that and went into college work. Of course, it’s also interesting to note that I finally did reach the Naval Academy. During World War II, I taught up there. So I combined my academic interests and my naval interests during a period of about four years.
I attended William and Mary, finished in ’33, taught in the chemistry lab there for two years, went to the University of Chicago. That was logical because my pastor and my major professor were Chicago men. I spent a couple of years at Chicago, got my masters, and came back to William and Mary on the faculty there for one year. Then went back to Chicago, started working on my Ph.D. And while I was working on it an opening in teaching developed here at what is now Old Dominion. And since my interest was primarily in teaching rather than research, I gave up my work on my Ph.D. and came down here to teach. And with the exception of the afore mentioned four years at the Naval Academy, I’ve been here ever since. My first year here was about 1938. I came in the middle of the year in February.
Q: In those days at a college like this one, it really wasn’t thought that you needed a doctorate was it, to be a proficient teacher?
Sherwood: In fact, in those days it was customary that if you were going into teaching you stopped off the formal training at a masters. If you were going into research you continued to get your Ph.D. Of course, nowadays a Ph.D. is requested for whether you want to teach or if you want to research or do both.
Q: Would you tell me something about the physical facilities that you had in terms of labs and classrooms when you came here in 1938?
Sherwood: The old building that has had many names that is on the little block by itself, just north of Bolling and Hampton, was when I came here. Effectively the science and engineering buildings, physics, biology, chemistry, mathematics and engineering drawing were all housed there. Chemistry had three laboratories for its freshmen, its analytical and its organic. We had one office that housed three faculty members. The fourth one had his office in his laboratory.
Q: How about the students back then? Could you comment on how serious they were?
Sherwood: I have been waiting for that question because I think that students back in those days were a very interesting group, because we were a two-year school. So that students wanting a degree would spend two years with us and then transfer to quote "a college of their choice" unquote, we never had juniors and seniors. We had to prepare students for the junior and senior year since they took their junior and senior year at such a variety of other colleges. We had to prepare them well in their freshman and sophomore years for this variation. As a result, we probably had in our freshman and sophomore courses much more material than was present in the freshman and sophomore courses in any one of the schools to which the students transferred. This actually was working to our benefit as well as our students.
Also, if you noticed the grades in those days, and like I did, I always enjoyed plotting my grade frequencies, you would find that we had many A’s and B’s. You also found that we had a lot of D’s and F’s. There were practically no C’s. There was a very good economic reason for this. Students who were good students fundamentally and who planning ahead could see not only four years of college but two more years, four more years of graduate or medical work or legal studies, would come to us for their first two years and save a lot of money. Thus we were getting outstanding students. On the other hand, students who did not particularly have an interest in attending college but whose parents wanted them to go to college all thought in terms, of college solely from the standpoint of the then "rah rah" good time stuff. They would come to us, have their fun. They would absorb what they could from the class. They wouldn’t bother about studying too much, and they would end up with D’s and F’s and be perfectly happy. Their parents were happy because they had attended college for a year. They were happy because they didn’t do— they did anything they wanted to and they really didn’t disturb us in class.
Now what about the C students? The C students who wanted not only what they could get academically from a college but also wanted a very extensive social experience, they would go away to college where all of these things were available. As a result, our C students were practically non-existent. Many good A’s and B’s and many dependable D’s and F’s.
Q: Could you recall some of the outstanding personalities from the faculty in the early years that you were here?
Sherwood: Possibly the outstanding personality on the faculty, certainly the person that even now more than thirty years later when I meet up with former students in the early 30’s, they always ask about him, that was P.Y. Jackson. Professor P.Y. Jackson, Ph.D., who taught among many things, chemistry, organic chemistry, analytical chemistry, physical chemistry, freshman chemistry, just name it and he could teach it. Not only did he teach chemistry, but he taught students many, many things. And many students who had him just for even a semester remember him with great interest and fondness. And I am often times asked concerning his present whereabouts. He is now retired, living in happiness in the mountains of western North Carolina.
He is also a person about whom legends grew in his lifetime and it is interesting to note the persistence of these legends. Not only with a given student through the years but how these legends crop up every five, every ten years. I happen to know that many of them are pure legends and I usually make an effort to tell the students that what he remembers is a very interesting legend, rather than a fact.
One of these legends, probably the most persistent one, and which I know for a fact to be a legend rather than have any item of truth in it and yet there are people today in Norfolk who considered it an actual fact concerning P.Y. Jackson. It seems that even from an early year, P.Y. had snow-white hair. According to this legend, one day he was sitting on his front porch of his home on Bolling Avenue. His mother, his wife, and his child were returning from a visit to the grocery store in their automobile and as they turned into their driveway, he watching them, saw a speeding car crash into the car in which his wife, mother, and child were riding and killed them before his very eyes. And from that moment on his hair became snowy white. This is a pure legend. I have known his wife and his children. I did not have the pleasure of meeting his mother. And this does not have any basis of fact.
Q: In 1941, after only a couple of years at the campus you were named the acting head of the chemistry department. I was wondering how this came about?
Sherwood: Dr. Jackson had been very active in the Naval Reserve and so, when World War II came along even before we entered it, he was called on active duty and moved up to the Naval Academy to teach there. Since there were two of us here in chemistry, I followed him as chairman of the department. And three years later, I being in the Naval reserve also, was called to the Naval Academy to teach and so I had four years of working with P.Y. at the Naval Academy. Following the War, he moved to a college up north and I came back here as full chairman of the department.
Q: In those early days, did you teach only chemistry or were there any other courses that you offered?
Sherwood: In those early days, I taught chemistry only. I taught always freshman chemistry. I taught organic. I taught analytical, both times, qualitative and quantitative. And later on I instituted the course in inorganic chemistry. However, Perry, because of his interest and energy in his early days, if there was a course to be taught, he would teach it and teach it very well. Not only did he teach freshman chemistry but two analytical chemistries, physical chemistry, organic chemistry.
He also taught courses in biology and in geology, some of these at the same time, more of them in sequence. However, as we grew larger and our classes became larger, he had to cut down on the number of the courses in his variety and soon confined his teaching to chemistry.
Q: I was wondering how you acquired your interest in astronomy, whether you had any formal training in this and when you began teaching courses in astronomy at the school?
Sherwood: If one of the things that we try to teach our students is how to learn things on their own, I guess my astronomy is an excellent example of that. For though I had been teaching it for more than twenty years, I have never had a formal course in it. That which I know about astronomy, I have learned on my own, through reading, through discussions with astronomers, through visits to observatories.
Actually it began when I was quite small and my grandparents had a summer cottage down at Ocean View. It’s still there incidentally. And it was a lot of fun to have a telescope through which we could watch the steamers come in and out of Hampton Roads. It was easy to turn the telescope up to the stars. And my father, grandfather and uncle were very actively interested in astronomy and so from the age of perhaps five or six, I became actively interested in astronomy and still have that interest.
Q: Could you tell me when you began teaching astronomy courses here?
Sherwood: I think we can date my teaching of astronomy courses from about 1950. And as time went, we started off by having a physical science course, which was based on astronomy. And later on, as students likewise became more and more interested in astronomy, we instituted a semester course in astronomy and then extended it to a year course. That possibly about in the early 50’s. You may find a little discrepancy on that date there.
Q: Dean William Hodges was the Chief Administrator or Officer of the Norfolk Division of the College of William and Mary when you came to the school and for several years thereafter. I was wondering if you could tell me your impressions of Hodges as a man?
Sherwood: I first knew Dr. Hodges when I entered the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg as a freshman. He was very pleasant and having met me once the next time he saw me he called me by my name (which in my case it happened to be two initials). He was this way with everyone. He could remember his students, not only remember just having seen them but remember something about them. And as I remember now, the second time he saw me, not only did he call me by my name, CS, but he asked me something about my hometown. This of course made one feel very close to Billy Hodges.
And during my years at William and Mary when he was Dean, it was a very pleasant relationship that he had with the students. And we were quite sorry to lose him but we were glad that he was coming here to establish the school in Norfolk. And everyone who did come here had very pleasant memories of Dr. Hodges.
Q: In 1941, you were named the sponsor of the Men’s and Women’s Honor Council. I wonder how the concept of honor worked at the school in those days?
Sherwood: At that time, the honor system here at what was then called the Norfolk Division, I feel, worked quite well. The students respected the honor council, and they as much as they possibly could, they followed its standards. Naturally you’ll always have in a group of students, a group of any people some whose concept of honor is not the best, but generally speaking I would say that the students were highly in favor of the honor council, the honor system.
Q: I read in the High Hat that occasionally you would have class projects in your chemistry class in which you would pit their efforts against the efforts of a college chemistry class in another state. For example, there was one against a class of an Illinois College. I was wondering how this idea got started and what you thought were the benefits of such a thing?
Sherwood: A very good friend of mine who was in school with me in Williamsburg and later on was in graduate school with me at the University of Chicago, went to this college in Illinois at the same time that I came down here. And we were teaching the same courses. Since we were in frequent correspondence with each other, we would tell each other how our classes were doing in our qualitative analysis and from this correspondence, or rather during it, there came the idea, let’s give our students the same type of unknowns so that we can compare how they are doing. And so for a year, Dr. Ewing and myself would give our students the same type of unknowns and then at the end of the semester exchange results. And it is pleasant to say that our students (the Illinois students and the Virginia students) with teachers from the same undergraduate school, with teachers from the same graduate school, and with teachers who were both interested in teaching, were running neck in neck in their race.
Q: Many professors note that when they came back from World War II that the students that they had in class were about the best they have ever experienced having in class. I wonder if you could comment on that, if you found that the students after World War II were especially serious minded and interested in education?
Sherwood: One of the best things that happened to us here and I think is the best and I think that this is true of the other schools around the country was the advent of the G.I.’s. Here we had a group of men who instead of coming to college right from high school, went into the armed services. While in the armed services they realized the importance of not just the mere bits of technical information that would enable them to do what they had to do at that particular time, but they learned the importance of a breath of knowledge, a greater background of information. And so when they came to college they were more interested in getting a depth in their courses. And they would learn more than what was just necessary to pass the test. Fortunately, this attitude was catching. And as long as we had the G.I.’s here, the boys that came directly from high school would respond to this interest that the G.I.’s had and they too, did much better.
We noticed that when the time came for the G.I.’s to go away and there were none to replace them that the boys from high school without their informal mentors, reverted to what one would expect of boys just from high school with no other experience. And they would play most of the time and only learn those things that they thought that they needed to pass the test.
Q: This question covers the whoLe length of time, I guess your whole academic career. But I find back in the newspapers in 1956 that you met with professors from three other state colleges to advise the high school teachers in Norfolk on how to improve their high school programs. I am aware that recently you were involved in the planning of the planetarium at the new Manor High School in Portsmouth. And so I’d like for you to talk a bit about the times that you have been consulted over the years by the various departments of education in regard to developing science curriculum and also new buildings and laboratories for science education.
Sherwood: Going back to the early days of the Division when we were a two-year school, we did not have the equipment. We did not have the time even though we might have had the interest to do much research. This was particularly true along the science line. But we were interested in our field. We were interested in our students. We were interested in helping our students do better in college. And so, the time and the energy that perhaps today we would put in on scientific research, we, in those days, put in on what now we call community service.
We would meet with individuals as well as with groups from the various high schools in the area to discuss with them what we were looking for in a student that they would send us. We would discuss with them what we had in our courses. So if they wished they could direct their programs to help the students that were coming to college. There was quite a bit of activity along this line not only among the science faculty but among the faculty in the languages, in history, English and the other fields.
Later on, my interest in astronomy enabled me to help in the designing of our planetarium. Then, as other groups in the area of the schools obtained government funds to have their planetariums, they would come to us to observe ours. And we were happy to discuss with them the features that we felt were desirable that would be nice if they could put into their planetariums. And this continued and you might say it reached so far, a culmination in which I was appointed to be on a committee of people from the public schools in Portsmouth to help select a planetarium for their new high school. Since the planetariums that have been built in this area were very good planetariums, they were all the same type. We felt that it would be a good idea to have a different type of planetarium in the new high school simply to give a variety.
The planetariums that had been built and the instruments that had been purchased for use here in Norfolk, in Newport News, and Virginia Beach were of the American design and manufacture, the Spitz planetarium. The Japanese had developed during that time, a very fine type of planetarium, which later on was taken over so far as its American manufacturing and selling rights were concerned, by a company. And so, it was decided by the committee that Manor High School in Portsmouth should have what was originally a "goto" type of planetarium. And this is very nice because this area now has two types of planetariums that the students can observe.
Q: In 1957, you were the project advisor on an attempt to build a cyclotron here at the Norfolk Division. I wonder if you might give some information on this in terms of what the purpose of this was and how the students became involved in working on the cyclotron project?
Sherwood: The whole purpose of building the cyclotron here was to help the students, to help them learn something by building. We had a group of students, five or six, that were all quite able students. They were able not only academically but were able to do things with their hands. They could thus be not only their own scientist but their own technicians. We had also been given a great quantity of copper wire, nicely wound on a spool. And so, with the magnets easily made and the copper wire given to us, and the students being greatly interested, they started on the project of making the cyclotron. This brought in of course, mathematics, physics, chemistry, a general merging of the sciences as they have done again. And the students with great enthusiasm started to wind the magnets with the wire that they had been given.
What stopped the project and stopped it very effectively, was that about every ten or fifteen feet, along that many miles of copper wire there was a decided and unmistakable break. It was hidden nicely by the insulation. And so, the project became one simply of starting off winding a magnet, which if we had had a perfect roll of copper wire could have become a cyclotron. Later on there was another tron developed here in the physics department but that was many years later.
Q: About this time in the mid 1950’s you moved into the new science building. It seems that it had been a very long time that that building had been planned and constructed. When you moved into it, did you find that it was adequate to your needs?
Sherwood: There is one characteristic that certainly we have had here. Perhaps other schools have noticed the same thing. And that is, when you become crowded, you build a new building to take care of the crowd. And the new building promptly attracts additional students. And so, within a year or so, you find you are just as crowded as you ever were. And so, this building, when it was designed to house biology, engineering, physics, and chemistry, was perhaps adequate for one year. And then all four of these departments grew not only in plans and in courses, but grew in numbers of enrolled students. And so, our new building soon became inadequate. And so we planned other new buildings and noticed the same phenomenon.
Q: The building that the chemistry department is in at present, the Alfriend building, was that originally designed to be a much larger structure than it is at present?
Sherwood: The present Alfriend laboratories is approximately one third of its original size. As time has gone on, there have been many plans made here. And later those plans for various and sundry reasons have been changed. And it is of interest to me since I happen to be in on the original planning that the present chemistry building is about 1/9th of an original plan that was to include all of the sciences. Imagine going south from the present chemistry building with an addition slightly different in shape but about the same size as the present building and then another addition south of that reaching over to where the new library is now being made. This was the original design and size for the new chemistry building in its extended nature.
Then next to it going west was to have been a biology building of the same general size and design; then a physics building; then a geology building. So stretching from the present chemistry building west about to where the physical education building is was to have been a huge science complex but times change, ideas change, and so this idea has been scrapped. And mow in all probability there are buildings for each of the sciences but planned for elsewhere on the campus.
Q: About this time in 1957, the bachelor’s degree was offered here first in chemistry and then also in biology. I wonder when the preparations were being made to offer the four-year degree, Bachelor of Science and Chemistry if you encountered any difficulty in obtaining the state’s approval for granting this degree? And how you went about recruiting faculty and preparing for the upper level courses?
Sherwood: When we had our plans for our bachelor’s degree in chemistry and in biology and in physics and once those plans were known, then we received many applications from faculty members who wanted to join us.One of the features that we had noticed very strongly in the days we were a two-year school was that we could get some faculty members. Faculty members who were primarily interested in teaching, but we, likewise, lost the chance on many faculty members who wanted to teach at the upper level and also who wanted the possibility of being able to do research through offering a master’s program. So, when we put in a bachelor’s degree there was a great influx of applications and we got some excellent faculty members. Later on when we let it be known that we were offering a master’s degree in the sciences and in the specific sciences, we again had an influx of applications. People liked this area. They liked the school but we did not in these various stages as we developed, we did not have what they wanted academically and so we were losing in the sense that they were not coming to us. We did have several people who came to us and liked it so well that they stayed on. And, of course, they were here when the advanced degrees were put in.
Q: Do you think that the tie up with William and Mary was an advantage in recruiting faculty?
Sherwood: Quite definitely it was because really the name William and Mary does carry a lot of weight. I may be biased there. My bachelor’s degree is from William and Mary.
Q: In 1959, there was a television course offered on physical science on what was then the commercial station, which offered educational programs (WVEC). Parker Bomb was to teach this course. Do you recall anything about this and about Professor Bomb in the chemistry department?
Sherwood: Dr. Bomb was an excellent student because he was one of our students here. And he came back to us on the faculty and for that we were thankful. He was an excellent teacher. He joined with me in developing the physical science course. Later on when this opportunity to give it with the Hampton Roads Broadcasting station, he was quite interested in putting on the program and made a very fine television teacher. Not only did he lecture but he gave very effective demonstrations with these lectures.
Later on he left our faculty to become a member of a college in upper New York State, Skidmore. Those of us who knew him both as a person and as a teacher were very sorry that he had decided to make this decision. But, at that time we were growing, growing quite large. And though there are advantages in having a large number of students, there are also disadvantages. In fact, we have lost several faculty members because they prefer to teach in a college that had a small student body. So their contacts with the student body as a whole, as well as contacts with individuals could be much closer than they could be at a school in which there were ten, eleven, or twelve thousand students. And so professor Bomb left us in order to stay with a small school.
Q: In l968, Dean of Students, G. William Whitehurst, ran for the seat, which he now occupies in the United States House of Representatives and according to a news story in the Virginian Pilot, you were being considered as a top contender for the dean of students job. And I wondered if you might comment on that, whether you actually felt that you were under consideration for that post?
Sherwood: Well, Jim, you surprised me. I didn’t realize that I was being considered.
Q: In 1969, you left the chemistry department and began to teach courses on astronomy and also devoted half-time service to the new division of general studies in 1970 as a academic advisor. I wonder if you might go into the circumstances of your leaving the chairmanship of the chemistry department?
Sherwood: At that time we not only were growing in terms of numbers of students, we were growing in terms of expansion of curriculum, and we had plans to institute the Ph.D. in many of the departments. Since our science departments here at Old Dominion have always been very strong, we felt that they would be the logical ones to start our Ph.D. development. Of course, when a school becomes a university, when a school begins to offer the Ph.D. it is only appropriate that the department heads have the doctor’s degree. Since I had made my decision years ago to stop off with the masters and to devote my interests and activities to classroom teaching, I did not have a Ph.D. Thus I knew that there would be a time when chemistry should have a Ph.D. to head the department. And so, this time had arrived and since there would be a change in my activities away from chemistry, since I had always been interested in students both in teaching and in working with them individually, I decided to make a complete change and so I continued my teaching of astronomy and I worked part—time in the counseling department. Thus I had with two aspects of work with students that I enjoyed. And for about four years, I taught astronomy courses and I counseled.
Later on, it became necessary because of financial complications for me to decide whether I wanted to be full-time in teaching or full-time in counseling. I stuck to my first love teaching and thus left the counseling department and went back full-time into the department of geophysical sciences.
I like to recall the time years ago, when my interest in and likewise the encouragement by the then Provost Lewis W. Webb that I was active in taking the steps which led to the establishment of the department of geology on this campus.
Q: You were in the last years of the counseling department and the first years of the department of general studies, the school of general studies, and their duties as academic advising. It does seem that there was a change of focus in those years. Did you find that what you did with students and your contact with the students changed from the time it was called counseling department to the time it was called academic advising?
Sherwood: No I didn’t. I felt that the work that I did in the department called counseling was practically the same as the work that I did in the department called academic advising. If there was any change, and I didn’t notice it, it was that in counseling we could take on a wider breath of fields of areas to help the students, while in academic advising one could be confined merely to the advising concerning courses.
I think that during my years, even before I entered the field of counseling formally, that in my contact with students as I helped them their chemistry problems, I soon realized that the thing that was giving them trouble was not their chemistry or their chemistry problems but something -- some things of more personal nature. Perhaps, family difficulties, perhaps lack of money, perhaps a feeling of insecurity due to other things, and that I could talk to them along those lines. And once that was settled them their academic difficulties cleared up. So the counseling that was done by the faculty on this campus before there was a counseling department was truly a breadth, a broad scope. Some of us felt that we were in a position to take care of it, others felt that they were not and so those who felt that they could help did and those who felt that they could not help sent the students to those that could help.
Q: Could you tell me now in 1974, what future plans you have in terms of teaching here and how you view your activities -- what you’ve planned for your retirement years?
Sherwood: I came here with the idea of teaching. I liked teaching. It’s been my life. Not just teaching a subject, but working with students, helping them wherever I could, in whatever field that I could whether it be academic or personal. In the course of my being here, I’ve taught courses; I became an administrator as chairman of chemistry; I became a division head in which all of the sciences were under my cognizance from an administrative standpoint. Then as we changed our academic organization, I continued on as chairman of chemistry. Then I got into counseling and now I am back into full-time teaching and I enjoy it still though I’m teaching in a different field from what I started. I still consider that I am working with students, that I am helping the students. Whenever the time comes for me to retire, though, I shall not really want to retire because I enjoy teaching too much, yet there does come a time when one must. And so in my retirement I naturally, of course, want to do the inevitable bit of traveling that all faculty members want to do. I don’t want to lose contact with students, so some way, somehow, somewhere, I’ll probably do a bit of teaching formally or informally.
Q: Professor Sherwood, one additional question. On this question of a geology program, I would like some information that you might have on that.
Sherwood: During the 50’s as we were starting our great growth, through the course in physical science in which we were teaching selected bits of chemistry, physics, astronomy, and geology, I noticed that the students since they had had chemistry and physics in high school, found that astronomy and geology were very interesting to them. As I had mentioned earlier because of this interest we decided to establish a separate course in astronomy, which has become now three courses – no four courses. Also we established a separate course in geology. Since many of the state schools have courses in geology I thought that our school should have one. So, in discussing the matter with Provost Webb, we decided that we would put in a separate course in geology just as we did with astronomy and we would begin to recruit geology faculty members who also had a background in chemistry, employ them in the chemistry department, and as the interest and enrollment in geology courses grew they would be here to take over these courses. And thus through the medium of the department of chemistry, the department of geology developed. When we had sufficient students, the requisite number of courses and an adequate faculty in geology we then separated them and made them into their own department of geology. And thus was started the department of geology under the sponsorship originally of the department of chemistry.
Students keep asking us when are we going to put in more astronomy courses because they find it quite interesting. It would be very nice if one of these days we could do the same thing through the geophysical sciences department for astronomy as we did through the department of chemistry for geology. As a matter of fact, the geophysical science department, you might say, had its genesis through the department of chemistry.
I don’t like to predict because there are too many other factors to be considered, but modern astronomy requires as an undergraduate preparation, physics, mathematics, engineering, these we already have. And with the courses that we already have to give the student a descriptive approach to the skies, to the stars, to the solar system, we already have without the name what effectively is a very good undergraduate program to prepare a student to take astronomy in graduate school.