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The professor who changed my life

We asked our alumni to tell us about the professors they had at Lehigh who really made a difference in their lives. The response was great! In the stories that follow, you’ll read about four extraordinary faculty members. In the coming months, we’ll continue to post more of your stories, so be sure to check back.

Lynne Cassimeris, professor of biological sciences
By David Stachura ’00

The professor at Lehigh University that had a lasting impression on me was Lynne Cassimeris.

While a student at Lehigh, I knew I wanted to pursue a career in some aspect of biology, and as many undergraduate students, I thought a career in medicine was the way to go. However, after taking a cell biology class taught by Dr. Cassimeris, I became more interested in the idea of performing academic research.

I contacted her with a request to work in her laboratory to learn more about cellular and molecular biology, and she took me on as an undergraduate researcher. Dr. Cassimeris helped me obtain an HHMI undergraduate grant to perform some exciting research on microtubule rearrangement after cell fusion. As I worked in the laboratory, I realized that I was hooked on molecular biology, and especially microscopy.

Instead of medical school I became interested in going to graduate school to develop as a scientist. I completed my Ph.D. at the University of Pennsylvania and have been a postdoctoral researcher at the University of California for four years. While I don’t study microtubules anymore, I still employ everything that Dr. Cassimeris taught me about microscopy as I image blood development in living embryonic zebrafish.

I still remember being a student in Lynne’s laboratory and thinking how great it would be if I could have a career where I could come in everyday, think of important biological questions, and develop the necessary methods to answer them. That is what I have been doing for the past nine years, and I am excited to continue doing so. My only hope is that I can encourage, teach, and inspire my students to become critical thinkers as well as Dr. Cassimeris inspired me when I was a student at Lehigh.

George Kane, professor of industrial engineering
By Donna Pitonak Bigley '78

That is an easy answer for me: Professor George Kane.

I met him when I was transferring into the Industrial Engineering Department and he was the chairman. He later became my advisor so I had reason to interface with him frequently (in those days, you had to physically see your advisor when you scheduled your next semester as opposed to doing everything on-line).

When I transferred into his department,  he told me to always make sure I was running to something instead of from something, which in retrospect was truly sage advice! I also was privileged to be a student in several classes he taught. No matter what the topic, he always made it interesting and I looked forward to his classes. He recognized the importance of his engineers being able to confidently speak in front of groups and many of his classes required oral presentations, which was truly invaluable. He critiqued every oral presentation complete with a written sheet of suggestions on how to improve. 

He always had time to talk to you when you were scheduling courses for next semester. He treated his students like they were a part of his family and he always had a smile and a cigar close by when you entered his office. At the time I graduated, there weren't a lot of women engineers and when he asked me about upcoming job interviews he advised, "Make them visualize you as an engineer ... don't wear eye shadow!"  

He also taught me a very meaningful lesson that I have never forgotten during my career:  that people are naturally going to resist change. An engineer is an agent of change—streamlining processes, introducing tools, etc. So it is up to the engineer to find a way to make changes "palatable" in order to be successful.  

I had the pleasure of seeing him at a Lehigh-Lafayette game several years after graduation and he walked over and shook my hand and asked how my job was going at GE. I was amazed he remembered my name and even more impressed he knew where I was working! It was just one more example of how much he valued his students and I was lucky to have been one of them.   

Ken Sinclair, professor of accounting
By Steve Markoff ’79

In the spring of 1977 I found myself starting my fourth semester as just another college sophomore not taking things seriously. I sat at a desk in Drown Hall not knowing the impact that the man standing in front of the room would have on the direction of my life.

After one semester with Professor Sinclair, not only had I learned Managerial Accounting, I had learned to discipline myself to think and approach my studies with the type of commitment that they deserved. The two courses I had with this man proved a training ground for the type of commitment and preparation that sets one apart no matter what area of business or life they pursue. Like many of his students, he inspired me to pursue a career as a CPA, working in “Big-8”, regional and local firms and on my own account for over 15 years.

My inspiration, however, did not stop there as today I find myself as a full-time university professor of accounting, teaching the exact same course that Professor Sinclair taught me over 30 years ago, and I pattern my teaching around the incredible style that had such an impact on me. The first day of each semester, as part of my opening remarks, I tell the students the story of Professor Sinclair and the impact he had on my life, and I tell them that my goal is to have that type of impact on them. He is mentioned by name many times each semester and, on the final day, I remind them again of the impact he had on me and how, because of that, my time with them has been just an extension of Acct. 52 from 1977.

Robert P. More ’10, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences  
By Fred L Fox '54

In 1952, I distinguished myself by earning a 0.29 semester average, possibly a record for those who managed to remain at, and graduate from, Lehigh. The reasons for this were manifold, but I must accept all responsibility for the outcome. Nor were preceding semesters remarkable except for being not particularly commendable either.

For reasons that are unclear to me this late in life, I was referred to Dean More. I did not know him prior to that referral, and remember him as quite old at the time. I quite obviously had removed myself from the engineering school, and was headed for the pit of life, but somehow this wise old gentleman was able to get through to me.

I don't remember at all the substance of our exchanges except that we discussed the fact that the two subjects that I had passed (with Ds) were Geology 1 and Military Science. It seemed that my best choice would be to become either a geologist or a soldier. Not particularly wanting to end up in Korea because I was in love with my high school sweetheart and didn't wish to hurry the part about death doing us part, I chose geology, and was permitted to enroll in the College of Arts and Sciences with the proviso that my next semester meet some standard, which also escapes me at this time but is irrelevant because somehow I was able to do so.  

Long story short, I was able to graduate nearly on time (October rather than June) by using summer schools to my advantage. Claire and I were married that September, and I  headed for the oil patch as a geologist not having a clue as to what would be expected of me (Lehigh at that time provided a sound basic education but did not provide a hint of what the real world would be like). We parlayed that first job into a successful career as an exploration (later engineering!) geologist while raising a family and traveling widely.

None of this would have been possible without the wise counsel and advice of Dean More. I have used this experience as a lesson to each of our four children when they were having academic problems during their college years. It has been instrumental in their successes as well as mine—Dean More has been effective in far more than my own life.  

Cancer claimed Claire sixteen months ago after 54 years of marriage, so I'm running no chance of publicly sullying her good name, but my family has Dean More to thank in part for our successes, such as they are. Funny how life happens ...   

Story by Jack Croft

Posted on Thursday, February 25, 2010

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