The first Penn State Ph.D.* was awarded to 30-year-old Marsh White in 1926 for a thesis on "The Energy of High Velocity Electrons."
Asked recently about the work by a reporter for The Penn Stater alumni magazine, White said, "I set out to prove that Einstein was wrong. As it turned out, he was right, but by then I'd gotten a thesis out of it."
A graduate of Park College in Parkville, Mo., White was recruited to Penn State in 1918, four years before the Graduate School was formally established. He was offered the equivalent of a teaching assistantship—$900 for nine months' teaching at the assistant instructor level—and received his master's degree in 1920; his thesis topic was, "On the Relation Between the Coefficients of Absorption of X-rays and the Velocity of the Parent Cathode Particles." His wife, Stella Steele White, also received her master's degree in 1920; her thesis was on "Opposition to the Civil War in Pennsylvania."
White taught on the physics faculty at Penn State until his retirement in 1961. A textbook he coauthored with Robert L. Weber and Kenneth V. Manning, College Technical Physics in 1947, has been called "arguably the best-selling college physics textbook ever." Revised and updated several times, it has been used in more than 100 U.S. colleges and technical schools, and translated into at least two foreign languages.
White founded the Penn State chapters of Delta Chi, a social fraternity, and Sigma Pi Sigma, a national physics honor society in the early 1920s.In 1944, he was made a special consultant with the Pentagon's new developments division, and was later named expert consultant to the secretary of war. From 1963 to 1982, he served on the board of directors of C-COR Electronics, the State College-based firm that designs and manufactures high-quality electronic equipment for use in communications networks.
Commemorating his 100th birthday on April 22, 1996, the Centre Daily Times noted that White "played a big part in Penn State's evolution from what he called 'a glorified high school for farmers' kids' to a major university when he was awarded the first Ph.D. in the school's history." He was honored with a "refreshed" Ph.D. at Penn State's Graduate School commencement in 1986. White died on January 25, 1999, at age 102.
*In 1904, an honorary Ph.D. was award to William Buckhout, a 1868 graduate and a professor of agriculture who taught botany, geology, horticulture, zoology and forestry at Penn State.