ΦΚΦ Member Spotlight – November 2019

Jamie Chapman
Nov 27, 2019
Robert Gates Headshot

Robert (Rob) Gates was initiated at Virginia Tech in 2003 while pursuing a Ph.D. in public administration. Rob also holds a Bachelor of Science degree in physics from the Virginia Military Institute, a Master of Arts degree in political science from Virginia Tech and a Master of Engineering degree in engineering science from Pennsylvania State University. He is also a distinguished graduate of the U.S. Naval War College.

Currently retired, Rob worked for many years as a physicist and executive in the U.S. Navy laboratory system. He was also an adjunct professor at the University of Mary Washington and the U.S. Naval War College. He enjoys serving groups that promote STEM education and the preservation of the history of Navy laboratories. He is the President of the Rappahannock Community College Educational Foundation board and Vice-President of the Dahlgren Heritage Foundation.

Get to know Rob!

  1. What do you find most valuable about membership in Phi Kappa Phi?
    I look forward to reading the "Forum" magazine. I especially like the discussions in the members’ network, Link.

  2. What has Phi Kappa Phi membership meant to you both personally and professionally?
    Membership is an acknowledgement of an accomplishment—completing my doctorate while working full time and succeeding at a high enough level to be invited by the faculty to join the Society. It’s also given me the means to stay connected with the academic community.

  3. Who inspired you most in your life?
    My father and grandfather were my first inspirations but there have been many in succeeding years. These have included various supervisors and professors. I have always enjoyed reading history and have been inspired by historical figures such as General George C. Marshall.

  4. What was the greatest challenge in your career?
    The biggest challenge came at the end of my career. The Navy moved me from the lab where I had spent my career to be the technical director of another Navy lab. The challenge was that I moved in at the top of the organization but didn’t know the people or the facility and, most importantly, my technical expertise didn’t line up with the work that the lab did. I had many similar challenges during my career but none of this magnitude. Those lesser challenges (and a good mentor) prepared me to deal with the biggest one.

  5. If you had not chosen physics as a career path, what path would you have taken?
    That’s hard to say since I’ve wanted be an engineer and work on missiles since I was a teenager. I’ve always told people that if I hadn’t majored in physics I would have been a history professor.

  6. What would people never guess you do in your time off?
    Most of the people who knew me as a department head or technical director never knew that I sing in the church choir. They were also surprised when my wife and I started riding horses. They never suspected that was an interest.

  7. Where is your favorite place to eat?
    My favorite meal is breakfast, and there’s a little local restaurant that we go to regularly. I also like Mexican food, and there’re a couple of decent Mexican restaurants near us.

  8. What is the weirdest thing you’ve ever eaten?
    It’s probably a tossup between snails and a ham and egg loaf that I had in a pub in England. The ham and egg loaf turned out to be hard boiled eggs stuck inside what was essentially a loaf of Spam.

  9. What is on your bucket list?
    I don’t really have a bucket list but there are a number of places that I’d like to visit.

  10. What are your top three life highlights?
  11. Getting married, the birth of our son, and having a paper published in a refereed history journal are the personal highlights. There are numerous professional highlights as well. Being selected for the Navy Senior Executive Service, completing my Ph.D., and being invited to join Phi Kappa Phi are at the top of that list.

To learn more about Rob and connect, visit his member profile within the Phi Kappa Phi online community here.

The ΦΚΦ Member Spotlight gives members the opportunity to share more about themselves and how they have benefited from membership in the Society. The spotlight is a great way for members to learn about each other and connect with others who have common interests and goals.

Would you like to be featured, or is there someone you would like see in the spotlight? If so, email Jamie Chapman, membership director, at Be sure to include basic information for the nomination.