My View from South Hill
Wednesday, November 7, 2012
The Ithaca College Chemistry Department has more than five hundred graduates, some of whom are today among the most respected leaders in their field. Its faculty care so much about their students that years later they can recount stories about light-hearted moments or intellectual breakthroughs in the lab. The department’s alumni care so much about the faculty, in turn, that they travel to Ithaca years later to give testimony about their mentors.
This tradition of excellence in the Chemistry Department has developed over 50 years. It is marked by such signposts as the over 50,000 cumulative hours of student research undertaken in the lab, and the more than 200 students who have presented their research at regional, national and international conferences. That represents over 40% of all graduates of the department who have had the opportunity to undertake original research and present it at conferences; a rate that is even higher among recent graduates.
Mike Haaf, an associate professor in the department, was recently recognized by Princeton Review as one of the top 300 college professors in any field of study, based on student ratings. He and 299 others (one of the others also from IC!) were chosen from among over 1.8 million post-secondary teachers in the country! Mike is so modest that he deleted the first two emails from Princeton Review telling him he had won this award, assuming them to be spam. They finally had to call to convince him this was a legitimate honor. “I appreciate that the Princeton Review decided to recognize quality teaching,” Mike says. “That is what the faculty in our department live for. This is really a departmental award because we have developed together and over a long period of time the culture of focusing solely on student learning.”
Conversations with our chemistry alumni prove that Professor Haaf is right: quality teaching has a long pedigree here. Grateful alumni of the department have donated five endowed scholarships to be awarded to junior and senior majors. The most recent of these gifts was announced at the department’s 50th anniversary celebration last month. Dr. Marjorie Chelly ’94 is a hand surgeon in Texas whose reconstructive techniques enable people to regain full functionality after accidents. She attributes her success to the opportunity she had as an undergraduate to conduct and present original research; her fund will enable future students to have the same experience. Dr. Chelly named the award for Professor Glenn Vogel, the mentor who created those opportunities for her.
IC chemistry alumni have been successful in many related fields. Gary Kubera '82 is today President and CEO of Canexus, a chemical manufacturing and handling company. He also serves as a director on the Chlorine Chemistry Division of the American Chemistry Council and is director and past chair of the Alliance for Environmental Technology, an international association of chemical manufacturers dedicated to reducing the environmental impact of the pulp and paper industry by fostering adoption of chlorine-free technologies.
Dr. Bill Schwab ’68 is professor of Trauma Surgery and former division chief at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine. Bill served in the United States Navy for nine years, where he honed his life-saving surgical skills. Once in civilian life, he applied what he had learned in the Navy to develop patient transportation networks and trauma center collaborations that improve the speed and integration of emergency care. He also became a leader in pioneering trauma surgery techniques ranging from brain-tissue oxygenation to X-ray tomography. Through his writings – including being co-author of the definitive textbook on surgical trauma care -- and by traveling around the world to offer lectures and consultations to colleagues, Bill has saved untold numbers of lives by spreading his innovations on a global scale. He points to Professor Heinz Koch as the one who introduced him to research and inspired his future career, and Bill has also created a student research fund in the name of his former professor.
The IC Chemistry Department has a distinctive commitment to undergraduate learning that, over 50 years, leaves a remarkable legacy. I am particularly struck by the way our alumni combine technical expertise, business acumen and commitment to making a better world. That is exactly the kind of big picture thinking we seek to develop at Ithaca College.
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