Unique Reunion Celebrates Hope Professor and the Sciences

A unique reunion on Hope’s campus highlighted faculty-student rapport that time and distance could not shake or undo. On the 50th anniversary of his arrival at Hope College, Dr. Sheldon Wettack, a member of the Hope chemistry faculty from 1967 to 1982 who served as dean of the natural sciences for the last eight of those years, was celebrated by his former Hope research students in July.

Dr. Sheldon Wettack, 1967
Dr. Sheldon Wettack, 2017

During his 15 years at Hope, Wettack mentored 21 Hope students — self-named the Wettack Research Warriors — in his physical chemistry laboratory in both Lubbers Hall and the Peale Science Center. Upon invitation from organizers Dr. Ken Janda ’73 and Dr. Charlie Bibart ’69, thirteen of those former students returned for the reunion on campus, a few for the first time in decades. What they found is a college that has grown in size and stature yet with a still-strong reputation in and mission for the natural sciences.

Not coincidentally, the Wettack reunion coincided with the first annual Schaap Chemistry Symposium, with Dr. Sylvia Ceyer ’74 as the keynote speaker. Ceyer is the John C. Sheehan Professor of Chemistry at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and an elected member to the renowned American Academy of the Arts and Sciences. And she was a research student in Wettack’s p-chem lab. “There is no doubt in my mind that the encouragement and guidance of Sheldon, along with the warmth of his wife Marilyn throughout my student years, were crucial ingredients to my scientific future,” praises Ceyer.

Sheldon and Marilyn were “left speechless at the idea (of the reunion). We were both flabbergasted,” he says. But for Janda and Bibart, the notion of celebrating a person who affected the career trajectories of many Hope students made perfect sense. And to do so while that person is still an active scientist and professor on campus made the event even more meaningful. “Very few faculty get to hear from their former students after 50 years about what you meant to them half a century ago,” says Wettack. “The reunion was very special in that regard.”

Though Wettack left Hope in 1982 to become art and sciences dean at the University of Richmond, then president of Wabash College, and finally vice president/dean of the faculty at Harvey Mudd College in California, he returned to the college in 2004 to teach part-time. He was invited back to “help out around the chemistry department, and I thought it was be a good way to go into retirement.” Then he laughs, fully aware that he has never abided by the full definition of that r-word. He even became the announcer for Hope’s swim meets.

For Bibart, who spent his career in the pharmaceutical industry and is now retired, the reunion was a terrific way to reconnect with his former mentor and other Hope alums, some of whom he hadn’t seen in over four decades or had never met since the returnees spanned a decade of Hope years. With great affinity and technical jargon, they reminisced about all manner of memories and methodology, including the acquisition of a gas phase photon-counting fluorescence spectrometer that needed construction in Lubbers Hall. Though Wettack was its chief constructor, he allowed his research students to work right alongside him and learn the nuances of laboratory assembly.

The gas phase photon counting fluorescence spectrometer constructed by Wettack Research Warriors in Lubbers Hall.

“Almost anyone you talk to who worked with Sheldon was impacted significantly,” says Bibart. “The recurring theme is this: As we look back, we see how much we were impacted by Hope, Hope science, and Hope science with Sheldon Wettack.”

Janda, who has remained in contact with Wettack throughout their careers, concurs. Wettack opened doors for him and others, providing opportunities that steered him, and them, toward meaningful, reputable science career experiences whether in higher education or industry or public service.

“Sheldon seemed to pick me from out of the crowd to nurture me and mentor me. He was kind and forgiving, never perturbed with a mistake,” says Janda who is the dean for the physical sciences at University of California-Irvine. “He said we had to learn by doing, so mistakes were plentiful. But his patience was limitless.”

Working with those who have youthful exuberance and enthusiasm for chemistry seems to be a Wettack forte. Before finishing his doctorate at the University of Texas-Austin in the mid-70s, he taught high school science. After completing his degree there, he came right to Hope to instill in those slightly older the hard work and love of chemistry.

Patsy Meliere ’72 Janda and Ken Janda ’73 (far left) present a check to former President John Knapp (far right) to honor Sheldon Wettack (center) and benefit the Wettack Research Fellowship.

Janda, along with his wife, Patsy Meliere ’72, also paid homage in one more way to their former mentor. They contributed a significant gift to the Wettack Research Fellowship, a fund that supports Hope students in summer research experiences. “The strength of the sciences at Hope is what drew us here in the first place, and we want to see that continue,” says Patsy of their rationale for giving the gift to the fund’s endowment.

As their time together wound down, the Wettack reunion attendees presented Sheldon and Marilyn with a commemorative book filled with pictures and epistles detailing his former students’ life trajectories and Wettack’s effects on them. Each story — 17 in all — told a tale of determination, scientific passion, and a Hope education used well.

“Marilyn and I sat together and read those pages and lots of tears came to our eyes,” Wettack says. “We were blessed by this very special time with very special people.”

WETTACK’S RESEARCH WARRIORS

James Hardy ’68, Charles Bibart ’69, James Koert ’71, Mark Rockley ’71, Charles Kan ’72, Gordon Renkes ’72, Daniel Dethmers ’73, Ken Janda ’73, Robert Klapthor ’73, Sylvia Ceyer ’74, Bill McAndrew ’74, Mary Millard Mayo ’74, Doug Sluis ’74, Doug Worsnop ’74, James Garmirian ’76, Patricia Dwyer Hallquist ’76, Dave Bartels ’77, Elizabeth Hager ’77, Richard Wood ’77, Mary Koeppe Luidens ’75, Kathleen Stratton ’78

Make a gift to support the Wettack Research Fellowship.

Alumni Association to Honor Two with Young Alumni Awards

The Hope College Alumni Association will present Young Alumni Awards on Thursday, March 3, to two graduates who have received national recognition for research that they have conducted as they have pursued their careers in the sciences.

The association is recognizing Dr. Emilie Dykstra Goris of Holland, a 2008 graduate who is an assistant professor of nursing at Hope; and Dr. Jonathan Moerdyk of New Alexandria, Pennsylvania, a 2009 graduate who is an assistant professor of chemistry at Seton Hill University in Greensburg, Pennsylvania. The awards will be presented during a dinner at the college’s Haworth Inn and Conference Center at 6 p.m.

The Young Alumni Award was established to honor the talents and contributions that young alumni have made to their professions, their communities and to the college, and was first presented in 2007. Criteria include having been a member of the Alumni Association for 15 or fewer years; notable prominence through professional endeavor, research, volunteerism, and/or involvement with the local or global community or the college; and demonstrating significant initiative by starting innovative service projects, research, businesses or other original enterprises.

2016_Hope_Dyktra_Goris_001 Dykstra Goris has been a member of the Hope faculty since 2012. Her teaching and research interests include critical care nursing/acute care of the adult, neuropsychiatric symptoms in Alzheimer’s disease and genetics.

In 2014, she was one of only 25 applicants nationwide chosen to attend that year’s National Institute of Nursing Research Summer Genetics Institute at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland.  In 2015, she received the Outstanding Dissertation Award from the Physiology, Behavior, Genomics & Society Research Section of the Midwest Nursing Research Society. Other recognition and support of her work through the years includes the prestigious John A. Hartford Foundation Building Academic Geriatric Nursing Capacity (BAGNC) Predoctoral Scholarship Award for 2011-13, received while she was pursuing her doctorate in nursing at Michigan State University, and a current grant from the Kenneth H. Campbell Foundation for Neurologic Research. She has authored or co-authored multiple articles published in scholarly journals and has made several presentations during professional conferences regarding her research.

Dykstra Goris majored in nursing at Hope, where she participated in collaborative faculty-student research mentored by former faculty member Dr. Susan Dunn. Her activities as a student also included the Hope Student Nurses Association, student-organized Dance Marathon fund-raiser on behalf of Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital, Gospel Choir and Nykerk Cup competition. Among other honors she received as a student, she was named to the college’s chapters of the Sigma Xi science honorary and Phi Beta Kappa.

Prior to returning as a member of the faculty, she was a registered nurse with the Surgical Intensive Care Unit at Spectrum Health Hospitals in Grand Rapids. She also served as an alumna member of the Hope College Nursing Advisory Council and returned to campus as an invited speaker.

Among other community involvement, she is a member of Pillar Church in Holland.  She and her husband, Don, have a young son at home.

JonathanMoerdyk_cropMoerdyk, a member of the Seton Hill University faculty since 2014, has received multiple honors for his groundbreaking research, conducted while pursuing his doctorate at the University of Texas at Austin, developing diamidocarbenes, a new class of carbon-based compounds aimed at mimicking select properties of metals.

In 2013, he was part of a select group of young researchers from 78 countries invited to participate in the Nobel Laureate Meeting in Lindau, Germany, an opportunity for the newest generation of scientists to mingle with Nobel Prize winners and discuss their work and ideas. He was subsequently named to two “30 Under 30” lists as an outstanding young scientist: by Scientific American in 2013, and by Forbes in 2015.  In addition, his doctoral research was highlighted in Chemical and Engineering News in 2012, the same year that he was also named a William Powers Jr. Graduate Fellow.

Moerdyk also received major national recognition as a student a Hope, where as a chemistry major he conducted research with Dr. Jason Gillmore. In 2008 he was presented one of only 321 Goldwater Scholarships awarded nationwide, and in 2009 he received Honorable Mention in the National Science Foundation’s Graduate Research Fellowship program—recognition that he also received in 2010.

In addition to research, his activities at the college included varsity baseball, intramural sports and InterVarsity Christian Fellowship. He was also named to the college’s chapters of Mortar Board, the Sigma Xi science honorary and Phi Beta Kappa.

His wife, Kathryn, is a 2008 Hope graduate. His community activities include science demonstrations for high school and middle school students, Habitat for Humanity and a mission trip to Haiti through Newlonsburg Presbyterian Church. He had an opportunity to connect with current Hope research students this past summer, speaking informally with them while attending the Great Lakes/Central Regional American Chemical Society meeting.

Both Dykstra Goris and Moerdyk will also present workshops hosted by the Alumni Association and the college’s Career Development Center for students as they consider their lives after graduation. Dykstra Goris will present “What Am I Going to Do Now? Goals and Decisions in an Uncertain Time” on Wednesday, March 2, and Moerdyk will present “Photochromes, Carbenes and Defining Success: A Young Chemist’s Perspective” on Thursday, March 3.

You are invited to join us in celebrating Emilie and Jonathan at the Young Alumni Award Dinner on Thursday, March 3.

Call for Courageous Action by David Paul ’10

DavidPaulMLKChapelDavid Paul will return to his alma mater to deliver this year’s Martin Luther King Jr. Civil Rights Lecture at Hope College, presenting “Dare to Be BOLD” on Monday, January 18, at 7 p.m. in Dimnent Memorial Chapel. The public is invited. Admission is free.

David Paul is a 2010 Hope graduate who is an M.D./M.S. candidate and Academic Research Track Fellow at the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry. He is actively engaged in several initiatives to increase the number of compassionate and culturally competent physicians from underrepresented backgrounds who are dedicated to serving in their communities. He has received national recognition as both a researcher and for his commitment to service.

In his address, he will examine King’s early life and career, focusing on King’s example in leading courageously against injustice even when his own life was threatened. Paul will additionally reflect on his own experiences in encouraging those in the audience—especially students—to discern how they can apply their own gifts in meeting needs in the world.

A native of Grand Rapids, Paul graduated from Hope with a chemistry major.  While at Hope, he served as student body president during the 2008-09 academic year. He conducted biophysics research in the laboratory of Dr. Brent P. Krueger and was awarded a Cyberinfrastructure Experiences for Graduate Students (NIH-CIEG) Fellowship to study under Dr. Ross Walker at the San Diego Supercomputer Center-University of California, San Diego.

He began his studies at the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry in August 2010, and matriculated into the Academic Research Track Honors Program in Neurobiology and Anatomy in 2013.

During his Academic Research Track fellowship, Paul chaired the fourth Annual Student National Medical Association pre-medical conference, which attracted more than 200 educators, clinicians and underrepresented students from area high schools, colleges and medical schools—exposing the students to careers in medicine. Using the conference as a model, he also co-founded the Minority Male Leadership Association in response to the nine-percent four-year high school graduation rate of minority students in Rochester, New York.

Paul’s academic interest is in neuroscience. More specifically, he studies how the brain heals itself after injury from strokes, traumatic brain injuries and brain tumors.

Recently, his work was featured as the cover article for the December 2014 issue of “Science,” and he has appeared on the NPR-affiliate radio show, “Connections,” as a “Notable scientist under the age of 30.”  During his research tenure, he has also helped several minority undergraduate students obtain competitive summer research funding and subsequent acceptance into medical schools across the country.

Earlier this fall, Paul received The William and Charlotte Cadbury Award from the National Medical Fellowships and Association of American Medical Colleges, presented annually to a senior medical student in recognition of outstanding academic achievement, leadership and community service. Upon graduation, he will begin his medical career as a resident physician in neurosurgery.

Paul’s presentation is sponsored by Herman Miller Inc. and the college’s Office of Multicultural Education and multicultural student organizations, and is taking place as part of the college’s annual Civil Rights Celebration week. The week, running Monday-Saturday, January 18-23, honors all persons and groups who have worked toward the advancement of civil rights and social justice, and is organized in conjunction with the national commemoration of the life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. The week will include a variety of additional activities for the campus community, including a panel discussion by leaders of multicultural student organizations on Thursday, January 21 from 4:00 pm – 5:00 pm in the Maas Conference Center and “Hope Serves” on Saturday, January 23.