EMU’s ‘giants’ of chemistry honored with lab dedication

Words of prayer, poetry, thanksgiving and anecdotes both humorous and moving lifted up the life and work of three former faculty members during last week’s Advanced Chemistry Lab dedication ceremony. The renovated lab — where former faculty members Dr. Glenn Kauffman, Dr. Gary Stucky and Robert Yoder worked, taught and mentored in more than 90 years of collective exemplary service — was filled with several generations of family members, grateful alumni, current and former faculty and donors to hear reflections on their powerful legacies.

In the words of Dr. Ed Sandy ‘81, who thanked all three men for helping him to fulfill a childhood dream of becoming a doctor, “the words and deeds of these three mentors, living amongst so many young people like me, created a generation of scientific leaders and their works that have bettered the world around the world. Thank you, Robert Yoder. Thank you, Glenn Kauffman, and thank you, Gary Stucky, for all you have done for so many of us. Your legacy of mentorship continues to inspire us all.”

The lab renovation and dedication was one of the final projects of the larger Suter Science Center transformation, accomplished with nearly $12 million in philanthropic support from more than 600 alumni and donors, said Kirk Shisler ‘83, vice president for advancement, in his welcome. 

A final, larger scale dedication of Phase II or “Suter West,” is being planned for Oct. 17 during Homecoming and Family Weekend.

The event was followed by a reception and a Suter Science Seminar by Dr. Brian Stauffer ‘91, professor of medicine and cardiology at the University of Colorado.

In a short speech, Dr. Glenn Kauffman ‘60, with daughter Keri Kauffman ‘00 and wife Mary Kauffman, paid special tributes: to his former colleagues at EMU  and former dean Dr. Lee Snyder for their support in helping to grow the chemistry program and expand research opportunities; to colleagues at James Madison University for collaboration on faculty and student research; and to EMU’s chemistry graduates, who have supported the program through their own work and through equipment donations like that of Dr. Shawn Ramer ‘83, who arranged for EMU to be gifted an electron microscope from MIT during his postdoctoral at Harvard.

Science, Kauffman concluded, is action and activity: “I have always believed and thought that science is a verb, not a noun, not an encyclopedia of facts and numbers, but then the answering of questions, solving of problems and puzzles and creation of the language that extends our understanding of our planet and its place in the cosmos.”

The family of Robert Yoder represents four generations at the dedication ceremony. Lois Yoder (front), Robert’s wife, is flanked by their daughters Kim Yoder (left) and Karen Dean ’84 (right). Robert’s son Kent is in the far left of the back row with his wife Diane to his left. Behind Karen Dean is her husband Bill. Grandson Justin Yoder was unable to attend; his wife Heather Bauman Yoder ‘04 (left) brought her sons, and Robert’s great-grandsons Judah and Ellis. Robert’s son, Doug, was unable to attend. 

Yoder brought years of expertise (and many stories, remembered Dr. Ed Sandy ‘81) of “that secondary temple, the hospital.” He and other aspiring pre-med students listened avidly “to what it was actually like to be in a clinical lab.”

Janet Harder Stucky, widow of Gary Stucky, with Dr. Ed Sandy ‘81, a special guest who has fond memories of all three professors. Sandy is executive director of Speciality Services Provider Solutions, Blue Ridge region, for Sentara Healthcare, and past president of Sentara RMH Medical Group. 

Sandy’s first experience in the chemistry lab years ago was “a little scary,” he remembered, to the laughter of the crowd. It was Gary Stucky’s class that first caused his boyhood dream of becoming a doctor to begin fading away, but it was the same professor’s invitation to return the next semester and take an even more difficult chemistry class that eventually changed his life.  “I said, yes, I’ll do it. I took that advice…it eventually became the spark to my learning and it changed my trajectory, changed me from biology to chemistry, gave me the desire to work and learn. And it truly gave me my career.”

When Dr. Tara Kishbaugh, now dean of the School of Sciences, Engineering, Art and Nursing, joined the chemistry faculty in 2004, she often was called “the new Glenn.” Kishbaugh heard that metaphor as a way of asking what traditions and values would be carried by the new generation of educators. As much has changed, she says, much of the values of the Kauffman-Yoder-Stucky generation remains. Practical rigor in the classroom and student-led research, she said, is highly valued. “Our students learn to think and act and be scientists.” And the community of care fostered by all three professors, so apparent when Kishbaugh first arrived on campus, lives on as well:  “Students repeatedly say, you listened to me, you believed in me … The emphasis on caring and education for the whole person is just central to who we are.”

Professor Matt Siderhurst, who teaches in the Advanced Chemistry Lab, with Kirk Shisler ‘81 (right), vice president of advancement. Siderhurst is among the many faculty who continue to support the culture of student-led research that Kauffman and his colleagues began. Also present at the dedication was Professor Emeriti Joe Mast and Kenton Brubaker, former chemistry lab hygiene officer John Spicher ‘58, and Professor Emeritus Roman Miller, who is honored each spring, along with Kauffman, when the Kauffman-Miller Research Awards are made to support undergraduate students in summer research projects.

President Susan Schultz Huxman shares remembrances from Dr. Shawn Ramer ‘83, who was unable to attend. Ramer earned a PhD in organic chemistry and did a postdoc at Harvard Medical School after graduating from EMU. He served in a variety of roles as senior executive and information technology, science and healthcare and is a member of the President’s Second Century Advisors.

Ramer thanked Glenn Kauffman for creating a nurturing environment that supported his interests and held him to high scholarly standards. “  I am forever grateful for the mentorship, instruction and friendship, which you provided during my time at EMU … please know that I think of you frequently and always with much gratitude. I’m delighted to be part of honoring your contributions to EMU and the gifts you gave to those of us who had the privilege of being your students.”

Huxman also offered a blessing to the space, beginning her prayer with this invocation:

Here in this space, our Suter Science Center, our faculty and students do not shy away from but readily embrace the wonders of God’s vast kingdom even as they study the laws of nature and what is humanly observable. The distinction of Mennonite education as practiced by EMU faculty is Testament to the idea that knowledge is not sufficient.

Practice is not sufficient unless this is connected to a witness grounded in Christ, committed to peace and practiced in community. We thank professors Kauffman, Stucky and Yoder for practicing this rare and beautiful distinctive of Mennonite higher education and I thank all of you for being the great cloud of witnesses that blesses this space in honor of these three devoted and selfless educators.