Professor Phyllis A. Leber has been an exemplary model of the teacher-scholar at Franklin & Marshall College. Her passion for teaching excellence, beset with high standards, clear exposition, and constant review of basic principles, is exceeded only by her interest in exploring the metaphors of organic chemistry alongside undergraduates, and her commitment to serious professionalism in her service to the college and the profession.
Born in Scranton, educated at Albright College (BS in chemistry, 1976) and the University of New Mexico (Ph.D., 1981), she worked for American Color and Chemical in Reading, Pennsylvania, during College, and was a Visiting Assistant Professor at Pomona (1981-1982). In her career at F&M, begun in 1982, she was named the Dr. E. Paul and Frances H. Reiff Professor of Chemistry (2001); served as department chair from 1989 to 1994 and from 2007 to 2011; received the Bradley R. Dewey Award in 2005; and the American Chemical Society E. Emmett Reid award in 2015. She has been the recipient of 18 research grants, primarily from the American Chemical Society Petroleum Research Fund, Research Corporation, the National Science Foundation, and the Dreyfus Foundation.
Her more than 50 publications have appeared in prestigious journals such as the Journal of the American Chemical Society, the Journal of Organic Chemistry, and Tetrahedron Letters, with nearly 60 undergraduate coauthors and seven faculty collaborators. She is also coauthor of the text The Bridge to Organic Chemistry. Though much of her research has been devoted to an explication of the mechanism used by certain geometrically constrained molecules in order to determine the limitations of orbital symmetry control of reactions, she also has collaborated in studies of plant cholinesterase and has developed a variety of projects for the General and Organic chemistry laboratories.
Professor Leber has taught 10 different courses, including several foundation courses in the area of environmental science and policy. Her governance work has been exemplary, having served on 20 committees, including four years on the Professional Standards Committee and a Presidential Search Committee.
Perhaps her favorite scholarly activity was the mentoring of undergraduate researchers, an average of almost two independent study students and three summer research students per year. She demanded meticulous laboratory work, careful reading of the literature, painstaking analysis of data, and presentations of results at national meetings. In accepting the Reid award, Professor Leber said, "The faculty member serves as a role model for students with respect to the creation of new knowledge. As undergraduates collaborate with faculty members, the nature of the student-faculty relationship changes to one of lifetime colleague."
One of her former students characterized the research experience as "a journey full of challenges and struggles, triumphs and failures, where success is achieved not only from a result, but from not losing enthusiasm along the way." Professor Leber's journey at our institution has been full of successes achieved by hard work, constant good humor, and a love for teaching and scholarship.