UAH student Will Shankles graduates with dual degree in Philosophy and Physics

Will Shankles

Will Shankles, a tutor at the UAH Student Success Center, helps a student with one of his assignments. Shankles graduates from the university with a dual degree in Physics and Philosophy on Sunday, May 7.

Photo courtesy of Valerie Johnson

"The University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH) was one of a few universities I applied to coming out of high school," said graduating senior Will Shankles. "Growing up in the Birmingham area, I was aware of UAH's strong reputation in physics and science education. The strong physics department, the scholarship package, and close proximity to home helped me choose UAH."

Shankles took calculus-based physics and philosophy classes, while attending Jefferson County International Baccalaureate School in Irondale, AL. With his UAH path mentally mapped out, Shankles planned to major in physics as an undergraduate student, and he would minor in philosophy just for fun.

"Over time, I accrued enough credit hours in philosophy to declare it a double minor—with my existing mathematics minor." With academic guidance from the UAH Department of Philosophy faculty members, Dr. Deborah Heikes (Professor, Chairperson) and Dr. Andrew Cling (Professor Associate Dean, Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences), Shankles soon realized he needed only three more classes to earn a dual degree. "I'm glad I made the decision to upgrade philosophy to a dual degree.

"My Ph.D. will be in philosophy," Shankles said. "One sub-discipline of philosophy is the philosophy of science, which investigates metaphysical and epistemological issues specifically in the context of scientific disciplines. I am looking to focus on the philosophy of physics, given my background."

An honors student during his time at UAH, Shankles is the recipient of numerous awards and honors, including the UAH Honors Dean's List (2014-2017), UAH College of Science Dean's List (2013-2017), UAH College of Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences Dean's List (2016-2017), Charger Excellence Merit Scholarship (2012-2016), UAH Peer Educator of the Year 2016, and the 2017 Department of Philosophy Award for Outstanding Undergraduate Achievement.

"Will is one of the best students who has ever come through the UAH Philosophy Department. And, he has a rare combination of intellectual talent and genuine humility," Dr. Deborah K. Heikes, Professor and Chair of Philosophy.

Shankles recently accepted a fellowship at The University of Notre Dame (UND), in the PhD program. He applied to 11 graduate programs of study, mostly to top-tier and middle-tier programs for an advanced degree in History and Philosophy of Science. He heard back from two of his three top schools: UND and The University of California Irvine.

"Notre Dame's department will prepare me as more of a generalist in philosophy, which would help me be a competitive candidate for entry-level professorship positions after I receive my Ph.D."

While being "pleasantly surprised" by the competitive offers for graduate school, Shankles is extremely proud of his accomplishments as a tutor in the UAH Student Success Center.

"As a tutor, I work to help students in lower-level courses gain competence, confidence, and independent study strategies. The sessions are usually one-on-one, although groups of up to four students can come in for an appointment," he said. "I tutored in mathematics, physics, and philosophy courses. My experience in the Tutoring and Writing Program will definitely help me in the future. I gained administrative experience as a master tutor (earning College Reading and Learning Association certification (CRLA). Additionally, I received pedagogical training through the CRLA certification process and my experience in the program. Since I plan on a career in academia, I believe that pedagogy experience will give me a head-start in my graduate studies."

"Will has been one of my most dedicated student workers during his four years with the Tutoring and Writing Program. It has been so rewarding watching him grow, not only as a tutor, but also as a person. I could not be prouder of his accomplishments," said Valerie Johnson, Tutor Coordinator UAH Student Success Center.

Although a new educational journey begins this fall at UND. Shankles will always remember his time as an undergraduate student at UAH.

"I've had a great experience at UAH, so much so I stayed an extra year. The professors in physics and philosophy have displayed their expertise in both fields of study. I really enjoyed when the class sizes decreased in the upper level courses—that way students could really interact with the professors and have a more personalized experience in the classroom," Shankles said. "I've also benefited from interacting with my peers…I've gotten a few good war stories from physics study groups, and talking with my philosophy peers has been really helpful with navigating complex issues from multiple perspectives. I've made lots of lasting friendships at UAH."

After earning his PhD, Shankles will seek a teaching position in a university philosophy department.


Valerie Johnson
UAH Student Success Center