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Risleys establish endowed physics professorship

From L to R: John and Dellaine Risley, Physics Department Head Michael Paesler, PAMS Dean Dan Solomon.
From L to R: John and Dellaine Risley, Physics Department Head Michael Paesler, PAMS Dean Dan Solomon.

The College of Physical and Mathematical Sciences (PAMS) at NC State University has announced the establishment of the John S. Risley Distinguished Professorship in the Department of Physics. The professorship was made possible by a gift from John and Dellaine Risley that, with matching funds, will provide a $1 million endowment to provide salary and other support in perpetuity for a senior faculty member.

John Risley is founder and CEO of Raleigh-based Advanced Instructional Systems and a longtime NC State faculty member.

The Risley Professorship will be the first named professorship awarded in the history of the NC State Department of Physics. It is the second professorship established in the department, overall, joining an endowment made possible by a planned gift from Risley’s colleague, Brand Fortner, in 2008.

“I think it says a lot that now a second faculty member, who has such intimate knowledge of the department – and his spouse, who probably knows more about it than she’d care to admit – have such confidence in the path of the department and such a strong commitment to its continued success,” said PAMS Dean Dan Solomon.

John Risley joined the Department of Physics in 1976 after earning his Ph.D. at the University of Washington. Trained as an atomic physicist, he became interested in the application of computer technology to teach physics in the early 1980s. In 1997, Aaron Titus, a graduate student, and Larry Martin, a visiting professor from North Park University in Chicago working in Risley’s lab, created the first version of WebAssign, a unique online service that enabled students to complete their homework and have it automatically graded online.

WebAssign was spun off from the Department of Physics as part of Advanced Instructional Systems in 2003. Under Risley’s guidance, the software and the company have experienced continued growth and success. To date, more than five million students have used WebAssign to submit over a billion answers to homework assignments, tests and practice problems. During any one academic term, more than 500,000 students are using WebAssign at over 1,500 educational institutions worldwide.

To support the Risley Professorship or for more information on establishing your own endowment in PAMS, please contact the Office of College Advancement at or 919-515-3462.

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