"But I think the most important thing we leave behind is the influence we have on our students, that next generation of chemists. In that respect, Roy has left his mark on that next generation as he's played a major role in the education of students at both the graduate and undergraduate levels."
Tributes to Four Scholar/Teachers:
Colleagues and Students Celebrate Miller's Contribution to Future of Chemistry
It's not often you hear peals of laughter pouring from Goodrich 104, the venerable tiered classroom that hosts intense chemistry lectures, demonstrations, and exams. References to astrology are equally unusual fare there.
But both were in the air the afternoon of April 14 as Professor of Chemistry Bob Olsen introduced the chemistry symposium celebration held to honor Professor of Chemistry Roy Miller. The 16-year veteran of the Wabash faculty taught his last organic chemistry class that week and will soon be spending at least a portion of his retirement days enjoying his favorite avocation, farming--an opportunity for humor not lost on his colleague Bob Olsen.
"Looking back to the date of Roy's birth, we find an interesting conjunction between the planets Venus and Saturn in the constellation Capricornus," Olsen told an amused audience of students, faculty, and former students and colleagues, some who had traveled hundreds of miles to congratulate Miller on his career's accomplishments. "Venus is the goddess of love, Saturn is the god of agriculture, so it was in the stars that Roy would end up on a farm!
"But we're not here to celebrate Roy's agricultural pursuits," Olsen said, concluding his introduction above the laughter. "We're here to celebrate his career as an outstanding teacher/scholar in chemistry."
Miller was already an accomplished researcher and professor when he arrived at Wabash in 1982. Graduated from Ohio Wesleyan, the ex-marine earned his Ph.D. at the University of Michigan when the chemistry department there was at its zenith under the supervision of the well-respected organic chemist Martin Stiles. He moved west to teach at the University of North Dakota, where he achieved his full professorship within seven years. But it was teaching for a year as a visiting professor at Dartmouth that most affected his decision to come to Wabash. Witnessing the skills and influence of teacher/scholars like Dartmouth chemistry professor David Lemal caused him to re-think his career path away from graduate teaching and toward the teaching of undergraduates.
Soon after his arrival at Wabash, Miller was named chairman of the chemistry department and gained a reputation as a vigorous lecturer.
"After one of Roy's more intense lectures, this room looked like a chalk factory," Olsen quipped. Miller won the McLain-McTurnan-Arnold Award for Excellence in Teaching in 1987.
Whether they were summer interns, undergraduates, or graduates, students have always come first for Miller. Many of them were on hand for his retirement celebration, including his first Ph.D. candidate at North Dakota, Darryl Fahey, now a chemist at Phillips Petroleum.
"Roy shaped my career and I consider him not only a mentor, but a close friend," Fahey said.
Geoff Coates '89, who has completed his doctorate at Stanford, credited his work as a summer intern with Miller as being foundation to his later research in graduate school.
To a group that included a fraternity brother from Miller's undergraduate days at Ohio Wesleyan, the professor expressed his appreciation for those who had gathered to honor him.
"I've been very lucky to have worked with and learned from wonderful people," Miller said, citing his mentor Martin Stiles as a scientist who, "through his examples showed us the really important things in the sciences, especially intellectual honesty, the need to give credit to others for prior work."
"What has meant the most to me have been classes of students who were intellectually curious and willing to learn, and I've had my share of these," Miller said. He read a list of names from his organic chemistry class of 1987. "With students like that in your class, you can't go wrong."
"The publications and awards--and Roy has a lot of those--are well and good," Olsen said. But I think the most important thing we leave behind is the influence we have on our students, that next generation of chemists. In that respect, Roy has left his mark on that next generation as he's played a major role in the education of students at both the graduate and undergraduate levels."
Olsen then referred to Miller's first published work, which focused on the chemistry of enzymes.
"The last footnote of the paper reads, 'Of some 20 preparations of this compound, two were encountered that detonated,' Olsen said. "So it can always be said that Roy's chemistry career began with a bang."
And ended with, if not an explosion, certainly an effusion of gratitude from those he worked with and taught.