Couple creates FHSU math, physics scholarships

FHSU Press Release
Hays Daily News

An alumnus of Fort Hays State University and his wife have established two scholarships to help students at the university, one for mathematics and another for physics.

Merrill Milham, retired research physicist, and Dr. Ann Davidoff, a retired professor, created the Milham-Wasinger-Davidoff Mathematics Scholarship and the Milham-Wasinger-Davidoff Physics Scholarship.

Milham graduated from FHSU in 1960 with degrees in both mathematics and physics. He declared himself a math major in his sophomore year at Fort Hays State and treasures math to this day. He remembers fondly the people who introduced him to the subject. He has vivid memories of Mr. Etter standing at the blackboard casting out nines (I think the older generation will appreciate this), Mr. Marshall’s broad smile as he trundled into class with exam papers and Mr. Toalson as a maestro of the dreaded pop-quiz.

As Milham’s college years continued, he developed a passion for physics and declared it as a second major. Physics allowed him to apply the math that he was learning to the real world.

Following graduation, he accepted a job offer in physics from Aberdeen Proving Ground, a U.S. Army facility, even though it wasn’t the math job that he had wanted and felt more qualified for.

“After a nearly three-day car trip, I arrived in Maryland ready for my first day on the job,” said Milham. “I remember the day well – being sworn in, meeting my section chief and co-workers, and locking the keys in my car.”

That day began a 50-year career as a research physicist before Milham retired in 2010. Along the way, he took evening courses in physics at John Hopkins University in Baltimore, which led to a master’s degree. He then waffled for years about pursuing a doctorate. With nearly 30 years of professional experience under his belt, he was bitten by the academic bug and began a doctoral program at the University of Maryland, College Park.

Milham’s wife, Ann Davidoff, was something of an opposite. She was attracted to the humanities and studied history and literature in college. She completed her doctoral studies immediately following her undergraduate degree in New York City. Davidoff started her career as an assistant professor teaching psychology at a community college and quickly discovered that the textbooks available weren’t suitable for her students.

She began writing an introductory psychology textbook that would not only interest students who had poor academic skills but that would accompany the text with study materials to help students master the content. The first edition of the textbook debuted in 1976, followed by two revisions and several translations.

Davidoff taught and revised the text for 17 years before moving on to her next job as a research postdoctoral fellow at Johns Hopkins. From there, she began conducting psychotherapy and psychiatric evaluations at a psychiatric hospital in Baltimore.

“My husband was poor when he struggled to fund a college education at Fort Hays State University,” said Davidoff. “He barely managed to pay for his books and tuition at FHSU at $55 per semester in the fall of 1956.”

Milham, whose father delivered mail and mother a laundry worker, cut costs by living with his grandparents in Hays while going to school. In the summers, he pumped gasoline in Salina to make ends meet.

“I assume that the recipients of these scholarships are like my husband – similarly good at math and physics, but struggling with the much higher costs of getting a degree today,” said Davidoff. “So, I’m happy to be contributing. Invested royalties from sales of my psychology textbook are the major source of funds I contribute to these scholarships.”

“Even with tuition among the lowest in the country, many students at Fort Hays State University struggle to pay bills and focus on challenging coursework,” said Dr. Grady Dixon, dean of FHSU’s Peter Werth College of Science, Technology and Mathematics. “Donor support is an investment in these students, and our affordability means that investors are more likely to get a favorable ROI.”

Milham and Davidoff are enjoying life at a retirement community in Maine. Millham’s bookshelf displays 21 of his undergraduate textbooks and he’s currently rereading a book that Mr. Toalson assigned for his MATH-130 course on matrices.

“My career in physics wasn’t without its difficulties and struggles, but it also gave me certain unique and lingering satisfactions,” said Milham. “This old student is very grateful to my alma mater, Fort Hays State University, for making it all possible.”

Milham and Davidoff established the scholarships by taking advantage of tax free distribution by utilizing the annual IRA charitable rollover, which is available to those 70½ years of age and older. In addition, the couple has included the FHSU Foundation as a beneficiary of their estate to allow their legacy to continue for generations of future Tigers.