A national award from the American Chemical Society (ACS) would be a significant career achievement for most chemistry professors. For Conrad Stanitski, it also brings a career full-circle -- and has deep emotional resonance.
Stanitski, a visiting scholar in F&M's Department of Chemistry who previously served as a visiting professor and administrator at the College, has won the 2013 George C. Pimentel Award in Chemical Education from the ACS. The honor is awarded each year for outstanding contributions to chemical education considered in its broadest meaning, including the training of professional chemists; the dissemination of reliable information about chemistry to prospective chemists, members of the profession, students in other fields, and the general public; and the integration of chemistry into the educational system.
Truman Schwartz, the DeWitt Wallace Professor Emeritus at Macalester College and 2007 winner of the Pimentel Award, nominated Stanitski for the honor. Schwartz served with Stanitski on numerous ACS committees and collaborated with him on "Chemistry in Context," an ACS-sponsored college textbook for non-science majors.
"Dr. Stanitski has made substantial contributions to all the areas of chemical education identified in the award's description: teaching, organization and administration, influential writing, instructional methodology, standards of instruction, educational research and public enlightenment," said Schwartz. "He is eminently qualified for this recognition."
The award is named for the late George Pimentel, an internationally recognized chemist who invented the chemical laser. Stanitski said the award is especially meaningful because he viewed Pimentel as a mentor from afar as he began his career in the 1960s as a high school chemistry teacher in Pennsylvania. And nearly a decade ago, Stanitski taught a workshop in Pimentel Hall at the University of California, Berkeley, an experience he said had a significant emotional effect on him.
"I remember thinking about George Pimentel as a bigger-than-life person," said Stanitski, who will receive the honor at the annual ACS national meeting in New Orleans in April. "He led an incredible doctoral and postdoctoral program at Berkeley but steadfastly taught general chemistry classes because of his passion for teaching. He also developed a high school chemistry curriculum that I used as I began my teaching career. Fast forward all these years, and you can't imagine what this award means to me."
Stanitski joins James Spencer, F&M's William G. and Elizabeth R. Simeral Emeritus Professor of Chemistry, as recipients of the Pimentel Award at the College.
"The Pimentel Award is a significant honor for both Conrad and the Department of Chemistry at F&M," said Associate Professor and Chair of Chemistry Jennifer Morford. "The award is the result of Conrad's outstanding contributions to chemical education in its broadest meaning."
Stanitski's long association with F&M began in 1984, when he joined the College for a one-year administrative fellowship through the American Council on Education (ACE) while he was a tenured professor at Randolph-Macon College. After the ACE fellowship, Stanitski remained at F&M until 1988 as executive assistant to President James Powell. He rejoined the College in 2005 as a visiting professor of chemistry following his retirement as distinguished emeritus professor and chemistry department chair at the University of Central Arkansas.
An inorganic chemist, Stanitski received numerous awards during his teaching career, including the Catalyst Award, a national honor from the Chemical Manufacturers Association for excellence in college chemistry teaching; the Gustav Ohaus-National Science Teachers Association Award for creative innovations in college science teaching; and the Visiting Scientist Award of the Western Connecticut ACS section. He has authored or co-authored more than 25 books, including chemistry textbooks for science majors, non-science majors and allied-health science students.
Through the years, Stanitski said he urged his students at F&M and elsewhere to find their passion and run with it.
"I always want students to find out who they are as individuals and also how they relate to the peoples of the world," Stanitski said. "They need to do that to take advantage of the opportunities F&M presents. Students need to find out what they do well and what they are passionate about. With the intersection of those two things, you have found your life’s calling. I've had that good fortune as a professor."
Another passion of Stanitski's is music. He first visited F&M while he was a student at Bloomsburg University in northern Pennsylvania to play his clarinet and saxophone at fraternity parties. He still plays his clarinet as a member of the F&M Symphonic Wind Ensemble.
But Stanitski's passion for teaching is the driving force for his success in higher education.
"The art of teaching is uncovering material, not covering it," he said. "It's important for students to see the context of what they are learning."