A Chemistry Department | Academic and Progressive

By Alex Vavoulis

Nobel Laureate George Seferis said “that learning is one of the noblest exercises of man and to be learned is one of its highest desires. Education is the governing factor of life.”

During my attendance on May 7 at the Chemistry Department Graduate Recognition Banquet, I was reminded of the above quote by Seferis as the chemistry faculty honored their students with awards, and the students paid a special tribute to Professor David Frank, who is retiring after 45-years as a member of the chemistry faculty.

The main purpose of the evening program was to honor the achievements of students of chemistry. In gender and ethnicity, it represented a microcosm of the world—for example, Jiwan Tiwana receiving the Helen Gigliotti Biochemistry Award, Chen Chengsheng receiving the Outstanding Thesis Award and Eduardo Da la Torre receiving the Outstanding Undergraduate Award. This diversity is parallel to the faculty with Joseph Gandler, Kin Ing and Laurent Dejean and others. The presentations of the faculty focused on their personal knowledge of specific students. These introductions reflected a personal satisfaction, humility and humor, but underneath lies a tough intellectual purpose coupled with respect and acceptance.

Perhaps the significant impact the Chemistry Department has had on Fresno State started with Professor Dale Burtner, who became chair of the department in 1965. In 1966, he became dean of the newly formed School of Arts and Sciences. Although Dean Burtner was not present at the banquet because he now lives in Hawaii, his spirit was there.

With the establishment of the School of Arts and Sciences, and a dean selected from the liberal arts faculty, Fresno State was on its way to becoming a liberal arts institution of higher learning. The new school organization included the Department of Physical Education; this inclusion reflected the ancient Greek ideal of the need for a healthy body to nourish an active mind, which was necessary to support democracy and the city-state and had nothing to do with the professionalization of sports.

Present at the banquet were retired faculty who, in addition to their successful teaching responsibilities, made significant contributions to the department and to Fresno State. For example, Stanley Ziegler, who, in addition to his career as a physical chemist, served as an associate dean in the School of Science and Mathematics, retired as associate dean emeritus and continues to sponsor a Physical Chemistry Scholarship.

Helen Gigliotti, a biochemist, also served as a vice president for budget for Fresno State, and Stephen Rodemeyer offered significant leadership as director of the Smittcamp Family Honors College. George Kauffman continues to be a prolific writer keeping the community informed of science subjects and wrote an extensive article, “Fresno State Chemistry Department,” on the 100th anniversary of Fresno State in 2011.

In a not too complicated way, the banquet of the Chemistry Department was also a tribute to itself. Over the years, it had the humanistic instincts to open the department and the campus to minority groups; it also had the wisdom to bring to the department professors and staff whose basic concerns were rooted in the ideals of free inquiry and the free expression of ideas.

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Alex Vavoulis is professor emeritus in chemistry at Fresno State. Contact him at alexvavoulis@yahoo. com.

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  • The Community Alliance is a monthly newspaper that has been published in Fresno, California, since 1996. The purpose of the newspaper is to help build a progressive movement for social and economic justice.

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