B.S., Denison University
M.E.E., Cleveland State University
Citation awarded June, 2013
Phillip Jenkins ’78 is the model of what we now call an “experiential learner.” He always acquired knowledge most successfully through exploration, examination, and by actually taking things apart. “I didn’t appreciate history until I had lived long enough to realize I was witness to it. I didn’t appreciate math until I understood its physical manifestations, the arc of a baseball for example.”
He found engagement in Physics lab classes where he could make conjectures and observe results. He also found inspiration in filmmaking at Denison, which he approached with the imagination of a true scientist. After Denison he returned home to Cleveland, where fate was kind enough to introduce him to the right woman at the right time, and he married her. Amy recognized Phil’s strengths and urged him to consider engineering.
Phil saw engineering as the active application of physics and it offered opportunities to invent, discover and create a better world. Eleven years after leaving Granville, he completed the Master’s in Electrical Engineering program at Cleveland State. Starting as a research assistant at NASA, Phil was thrilled to find himself in a career doing actual hands-on science.
Phil worked with a brilliant group of NASA physicists in the areas of solar cells and semiconductors, making more efficient solar cells for use in space, which is how he became involved with Mars Pathfinder. Working with colleagues at NASA, they developed a solar cell experiment that rode on the Sojourner rover. Looking up in the night sky and seeing Mars, knowing his handiwork exists on Mars gives Phil an enduring connection to the universe that few have the opportunity to experience.
From that point, his reputation brought him many more opportunities, including several highly successful experiments with the International Space Station for the Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) that endure to this day. Eventually, he moved to NRL full time, where Phil heads a section of scientists working on advanced imaging and solar cell technology. He works with creative, inventive people with entrepreneurial spirit and open minds, and so he has found a home for his own remarkable talents.