Dr. Dan Bruton named final SFA Regents Scholar

NACOGDOCHES, Texas — As one of its final duties,the Stephen F. Austin State University Board of Regents named Dr. Dan Bruton, professor of physics and director of the SFA Planetarium, the 2023-24 Regents Scholar.

The title of Regents Scholar is the highest honor the university can bestow upon a faculty member. The honor is reserved for faculty members who are exemplary role models to the university community. The title is not an academic rank but an honorary title held for the duration of the recipient’s service to the university. 

As part of the recognition, Bruton received a $2,000 grant to support his research efforts, which involve the search for minor planets as well as engineering design projects.

Previously named Regents Professor, SFA’s Regents Scholar program was established in 1979. Bruton will be the last to receive this recognition as SFA joins The University of Texas System this fall and becomes governed by the system’s board.

“As the final recipient of the Regents Scholar award, I am filled with profound gratitude and a heightened sense of responsibility,” Bruton said. “Joining the ranks of distinguished individuals who have received this honor before me is a humbling experience. Receiving this award is truly a highlight of my career, and I am grateful for the support and encouragement of my colleagues and mentors who have helped me reach this point.”

Bruton earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in physics from SFA in 1988 and 1990, respectively, and obtained his doctoral degree in physics from Texas A&M University in 1996. Shortly after, he joined the SFA faculty and now teaches astronomy, engineering and physics courses. A recipient of SFA’s Teaching Excellence Award in 2003, Bruton was integral in the establishment of SFA’s engineering program, including the electrical engineering and mechanical engineering degree programs.

“Throughout his service as a faculty member, associate dean, director of the planetarium, director of engineering, and Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology accreditation team leader, Dr. Dan Bruton has performed and led with conviction, compassion and excellence,” said Dr. Kimberly Childs, dean of SFA’s College of Sciences and Mathematics. “He is a servant leader, a visionary and a trusted colleague.”

Bruton also helps develop curriculum for younger students, including STEM Academy educational modules on engineering for the Nacogdoches and Lufkin independent school districts. He has involved students in Near Space projects that take instruments to the edge of space with high-altitude balloons, and he is currently working with students on an engineering design project for the collegiate Society of Automotive Engineers’ Baja national competition. 

“Fostering a curiosity for science among all generations in the community is of utmost importance,” Bruton said. “Embracing curiosity not only fuels our thirst for knowledge but also empowers us to understand the world around us and tackle its challenges.

“By nurturing this inquisitive spirit, we inspire lifelong learners, promote scientific literacy and pave the way for innovative solutions that can positively impact society and create a brighter future for all. I consider myself incredibly fortunate to have the opportunity to engage with both K-12 students through our planetarium educational programs and assist college students in achieving their career aspirations in engineering and physics.”

Bruton has worked with students to discover 11 new asteroids and make observations of over 40 other minor planets. He also has written free astronomy educational computer programs and made them available online. In addition, he educates the whole community through SFA Planetarium programming.

“Dr. Bruton has the unique ability to build and sustain sound relationships, serving as a valuable, dependable resource to countless students and colleagues across the SFA campus and beyond,” Childs said. “I have great respect and admiration for him, and I believe he is the quintessential SFA Regents Scholar.”