Delaware State University awarded its first doctorates Sunday and graduated a record number of students who received other degrees.
Paul "Frank" Gibson of Dover and Ben Kamau of Middletown received their doctorates in mathematics and physics, an interdisciplinary program.
Twenty-two more students are working toward doctorates in the math and physics program, and two more are entering in the fall, said Fengshan Liu, chairman of the department of applied mathematics and theoretical physics.
The doctoral program in math and physics started in 2003. The educational leadership program began its doctoral program in 2004, but it has not yet turned out any graduates.
The conferral of a record 529 degrees moved at a fast clip on the windy, sun-drenched morning, until Gibson and Kamau were recognized at the end; they received a standing ovation. Gibson's cap blew off in the wind as he accepted his diploma, but he swiftly recovered it.
Kamau arrived in the United States seven years ago from Kenya, where he taught mathematics at Egerton University. On Sunday, 30 members of his family attended the ceremony, including his parents and daughter, who traveled from Kenya for the event.
Kamau is the first in his family to earn a doctorate.
"I never imagined," said his father, Joseph Mungai, as Kamau translated into English. "God is great. The day has come."
Gibson, a longtime math professor at DSU, studied applied mathematics, writing his dissertation on the relationship between algebra and probability.
Gibson had the pleasure of graduating alongside his stepdaughter, Jingsi Gao, who received her master's degree in applied mathematics. He said they encouraged other as they worked.
Gao said she respected her stepfather's time at home, and went to him for help mainly during his office hours.
"He enjoys math. He loves helping students. He can just sit there and do math for one day, without any interruptions," Gao said. "He's very ambitious."
The math and physics program benefited from a $4 million grant from the U.S. Department of Defense. That allowed Kamau to study 3-D computer modeling, such as facial recognition software, for his dissertation. The grant paid for Kamau's full scholarship.
Liu said the school also does research for the Defense Department on ground-penetrating radar, which helps identify land mines and bombs in caves and tunnels. Researchers there also work with video cameras that are able to scan for unusual activity in crowd situations, Liu said.
Kamau said he's looking for a faculty job in which he can research, teach and "give back to the community."
He's considering DSU as one of his options.
Gibson said he came close to getting his degree several times, including at the University of Delaware and Temple University, but never quite finished. This time, with the encouragement of his wife, a computer science lab technician at DSU, he was able to finish.
He said he got up every morning at 5 and worked through his weekends, continuing to teach all the while.
Gibson, 65, has been teaching at DSU since 1976. He said he'll continue to teach and write some articles.
"Mathematics is really for young people," he said of the rigorous calculations. Math is about seeing patterns, he said, which remains his strength.
Gibson's two daughters finished the requirements for their degrees, one in music, the other in art education, earlier this school year at DSU.
Del. treasurer addresses crowd
The large number of graduates was reflected in the robust attendance of family and friends at Alumni Stadium, where they packed the bleachers and huddled around the perimeter fence.
Commencement speaker Jack Markell, Delaware's state treasurer, urged graduates to try to cut through the clutter of everyday life, look for the beauty around them and keep their senses attuned to injustices in the world. "Every age has this massive moral blind spot that we don't see, but our children will," he said.