Family’s Generosity Supports Students, Faculty

Jacob Lineberry and John Thomas had never met before they arrived at NC State within a couple of years of each other. Today, the two have something in common that impacts their experiences at NC State in different, but equally meaningful ways.

Lineberry, a senior studying math and physics, received a Solomon Scholarship, which made it possible for him to come to NC State. Thomas, a faculty member in the physics department, holds the John S. Risley Distinguished Professorship, an honor that helped take his research in atomic physics in new and innovative directions.

Their common thread is the generosity of the late John Risley and his wife, Dellaine. Risley was a longtime NC State faculty member, and he and his wife’s contributions to NC State created both Lineberry’s scholarship and Thomas’ professorship.

A way to NC State and a welcome mentorship

Jacob Lineberry

Lineberry grew up in a small town in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley. When it came time to apply to college, he was ready to leave the small town behind in search of a more urban environment. He visited and fell in love with NC State.

Without significant scholarship support, out-of-state tuition costs would have made attending financially difficult for Lineberry. That’s why he was so grateful to receive a Solomon Scholarship, which allowed him to come to NC State and have a number of significant experiences that are shaping his plans for the future.

From a research experience with the National Institute of Standards and Technology and an internship at the Brookings Institute, to a trip to Spain to hike the 550 miles of El Camino de Santiago in northern Spain, Lineberry is taking full advantage of his college years. Without the Solomon Scholarship, none of this would have been possible.

It has also been meaningful for Lineberry to have Dellaine Risley take an interest in his education and experiences outside the classroom.

Whenever the two speak – whether in person or by email – Lineberry said he always comes out of the conversation feeling better.

“She always gives me the kind of perspective I need,” he said. “She always encourages me to be safe, but not too safe.”

A move to NC State for the facilities comes with a sense of community

John Thomas

Not long before Lineberry made his journey to NC State, Thomas was leaving Duke University for NC State to work in facilities that better met his research needs, and in search of an overall better fit professionally. It was about a year after arriving at NC State that Thomas received the John S. Risley Professorship.

In simple terms, he explains that he and his team “trap atoms in beams that are made out of light.” In the midst of his work, sometimes Thomas said he comes up with ideas that may not be funded by his current grants. The funding from his professorship allows him to “work ahead,” he said — perhaps buying a piece of equipment needed to further his research, or hiring a student who can both assist him and benefit from the learning experience.

“The flexibility is tremendously helpful,” Thomas said. “I’m able to pursue directions that make sense to me.”

Thomas appreciates the relationships he built with the Risley family. He met John Risley at his first faculty retreat before Risley passed away, and later met Dellaine and the couple’s three children.

“I like them a lot,” he said. “They’re a really great family, really nice.”

That connection, combined with the warmth and camaraderie he found in the physics department, helped Thomas to feel at home at NC State. He’d built several meaningful relationships during his time at Duke that he missed when he moved to NC State.

“For me, it actually filled a hole in something I left behind,” Thomas said.

Just as the Risleys Intended

Dellaine Risley speaks fondly of the support NC State provided when her husband began working at the university in 1976.

“He felt like he was supported with anything he wanted to do,” she said. “That’s why we wanted to give back, to help others follow their dreams.”

John Risley enjoyed having gatherings of people, she said. The couple had hosted both faculty and students at their Raleigh home, and envisioned more of that when they endowed the professorship and the scholarship, Dellaine Risley said.

Though that part of the plan changed when John Risley passed away in 2013 after a six-month battle with a rare and aggressive form of cancer, Dellaine Risley said her family’s commitment to helping faculty and students achieve their dreams at NC State remains the same.

She enjoys seeing Thomas have the flexibility to pursue his passion at NC State and watching opportunities open up for Lineberry as he pursues his college education.

“The joy of seeing students and faculty have experiences beyond the normal courses — it brings a lot of joy to me, and to us,” she said.