Page 10 - Marist Magazine Winter 2011-2012

Basic HTML Version

8
M A R I S T M A G A Z I N E
As the first Dr. Richard LaPietra summer researcher, chemistrymajor Coleen Nemes ’13 workedwith Associate Professor of Chemistry John Galbraith
on determining the molecular geometries and electronic spin states of small transition metal clusters.
Passing
Excellence
Forward
W
hen Joseph Richard LaPietra entered
Marist College in 1950 as a young
student Brother, he had a choice of two majors:
English or Spanish. These were the subject
areas that the Marist Brothers thought they’d
need teachers for in four years. And so the
future, legendary chemistry professor chose
Spanish.
Despite a lifelong interest in mastering
languages—not just Spanish, but German,
French, and Italian—Richard LaPietra began
fulfilling his destiny to be a
science professor almost as soon
as he graduated from Marist.
While teaching at St. Helena
High School in the Bronx, he took chemistry
courses at Fordham and then went on to the
Catholic University of America to complete a
PhD summa cum laude in the field he loved.
He also loved teaching at Marist College
for 41 years—not only chemistry, but also
physics and mathematics for a time. Teaching
meant everything to the professor emeritus and
Marist College Heritage Professor, says his wife,
Barbara. He especially loved the “aha” moment.
“At the beginning of a semester, Richard
was aware of the blank faces as students strug-
gled to understand the subject matter,” she says.
“He then rejoiced in seeing the light in their
eyes after several sessions, when they ‘got it.’
B Y S H A I L E E N K O P E C
He relished these experiences.”
He especially enjoyed working in the
science labs with students on a one-to-one
basis, both individually and in small groups.
“Richard was known to be a gifted and creative
teacher,” Barbara says. “He had the ability to
take difficult concepts and help his students to
understand them, not necessarily with the glitz
and glitter of today’s technology, but frequently
with chalk and a blackboard. Most important
was the amazing connection and interest he
conveyed to his students.”
In early 2010, the Marist
College community was deeply
saddened by Richard’s passing at
age 77. Knowing how much her husband loved
to challenge and encourage his students to be
their best, and wanting to link his name with
Marist in an enduring way that also advanced
high standards in his field, Barbara established
the Dr. J. Richard LaPietra ’54 Sponsored
Student Research Fund To Enhance Excellence
in Chemistry Studies. Her contribution has
enabled Marist to create an endowment, or
permanent fund, which the College invests to
generate a generous annual award in perpetuity.
The LaPietra Fund supports top chemistry
and biochemistry students pursuing faculty-
mentored faculty-student research, with an
overarching goal to inspire students to pursue
a level of research that merits peer-reviewed
scientific publication and/or presentation at
regional, national, or international science
forums. Notably, the fund annually under-
writes a generous stipend for an outstanding
student to pursue summer research in collab-
oration with a Marist chemistry professor.
This experience deepens a student’s academ-
ic résumé in a significant way. Since most
students must work to help with their educa-
tional expense, this underwriting makes for
an especially attractive opportunity.
The first student to benefit from the
LaPietra Fund is Coleen Nemes ’13, a chemis-
try major from Edison, NJ, who plans to pursue
a PhD in physical or inorganic chemistry. This
past summer Nemes teamed up with Dr. John
Galbraith, associate professor of chemistry,
who came to Marist in 2001 after postdoctoral
appointments at the University of Washington
and the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. His
research focuses on the theoretical aspects
of chemical bonding through computational
modeling.
Together, the professor and student worked
on determining the molecular geometries and
electronic spin states of small transition metal
clusters. “The goal was to understand the reason
for the exceptionally high spin states in these
molecules in the hope of discovering a means
Philanthropy