9/21/2015 Peter Durantine

Leber Receives Prestigious Award for Chemistry Teaching

This magazine article is part of Summer 2015 / Issue 82

During more than three decades of teaching and conducting scientific research at Franklin & Marshall, Phyllis Leber has demonstrated a tireless dedication to transforming her undergraduates from learners to collaborators.

For her efforts, the Dr. E. Paul and Frances H. Reiff Professor of Chemistry recently received the prestigious E. Emmet Reid Award in Chemistry Teaching at Small Colleges in the American Chemical Society’s Middle Atlantic Region. The award recognizes excellence in teaching and scholarship.

“The faculty member serves as a role model for students with respect to the creation of new knowledge,” Leber said. “As undergraduates collaborate with faculty members, the nature of the student-faculty relationship changes … to one of lifetime colleague, in that informal advice or even formal letters of recommendation are often sought many years after graduation.”

As the fourth F&M chemistry professor in 35 years to receive the award—the others are Fred Snavely (1980), Jim Spencer (1999) and Claude Yoder (2008)—Leber hews to the College's tradition of professors integrating students into their scholarly work, says Associate Professor of Chemistry Jennifer Morford, the department chair.

“She is in a cohort of colleagues in this department who exemplify that tenet,” Morford said. “The award is a phenomenal way to have external recognition for the extraordinary time and energy they spend on their scholarship.”

Since arriving at F&M in 1982, Leber has maintained “an enduring research program, rooted in her passion for working with undergraduates,” said Yoder, the Charles A. Dana Professor of Chemistry. “Phyllis’ achievements in teaching and scholarship, and her ability to challenge and inspire students, are outstanding.”

Leber has been the recipient of 18 research grants, primarily from the American Chemical Society’s Petroleum Research Fund, which recently gave her a three-year award for her project, “The Use of a Cyclopropylcarbinyl Radical Rearrangement as a Singlet Diradical Probe.”

The Dreyfus Foundation and National Science Foundation also have funded her student-assisted research. Leber has worked with more than 50 students and published more than 50 journal articles, including papers devoted to environmental laboratory projects and trends in undergraduate research. Many of her research students were co-authors and went on to graduate or medical school.  – Peter Durantine

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